The current trend of petty raids has the industry on high alert as authorities play both cops and robbers at the expense of compliant weed businesses.
TLC Collective is a highly-respected dispensary run by industry veterans the Jungle Boys for over 16 years. The shop reportedly paid $18 million in California taxes last year. But that wasn’t enough to stop the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) from treating the store like a criminal operation during a March 1 raid.
According to the shop’s Instagram page, California tax authorities showed up to the Boyle Heights dispensary with about 20 undercover vehicles from LAPD, the LA County Sheriff’s Department, and the California Highway Patrol. Owners watched the officers enter on security footage, convinced they made a huge mistake and missed a multi-million-dollar payment. Turns out, the raid occurred over a $66,000 fine discrepancy that was being fairly contested.
What caused this massive raid and cash seizure?
The issue started during the early pandemic days of 2020, when the CDTFA was not accepting cash payments. This created an obvious hurdle for cannabis businesses, who must deal almost exclusively in cash thanks to the continued federal prohibition of marijuana. At the time of the raid, TLC by Jungle Boys was legally disputing the fine via the appropriate channels. But none of that mattered to California tax authorities.
Officers involved in the raid reportedly seized more than $174,000 in cash, including budtender tips, before facetiously asking detained individuals “how much they could make” growing weed.
To clear their good name, TLC‘s owners posted screenshots of messages exchanged with CDTFA officials, insisting they had done nothing to warrant the raid.
“Our office is not aware of reason for the raid of your client, but I will see if I can get any information,” said one screen-shotted message from the CDTFA. Another posted message read: “Regarding your appeal, notes in our system show that it is currently pending a settlement review.”
The TLC by Jungle Boys team’s rightful frustration boiled over on Instagram. “I’ve gone through every emotion, and when I realized I pay all these people to do this shit to us,” wrote the @JungleBoys account.
The growing trend of unjust raids and seizures
The case began when Empyreal Logistics vans were stopped in traffic by sheriff’s deputies, which led to more than $1 million in cash getting seized and forfeited to the FBI. The feds claim the money came from money laundering and illicit sales, but provided no evidence or charges to follow their seizure.
The judge acknowledged Empyreal’s side of the case was valid, but blamed the logistics company’s lawyers for their loss. “Empyreal may very well have an excellent case on the merits,” said the judge. “The court respects Empyreal’s zeal and does not doubt its sincerity — but Empyreal’s counsel does their client no favors by cutting procedural corners and ignoring the court’s guidance,” ruled Judge John W. Holcomb.
The precedent set by the Empyreal case could allow authorities to declare open season on upstanding cannabis operators nationwide. Many law enforcement agencies have already been accused of abusing the gray area that exists between state laws and federal prohibition–the TLC raid is just the most visible example.
All stakeholders in the legal cannabis industry must resist these federal overreaches immediately. In the aftermath of their episode with the state, TLC by Jungle Boys operators wrote on Instagram: “The California cannabis tax system is broken, and we will all be out of business while all these agencies continue to get bigger everyday.”