Last week, a California judge ordered a district attorney to return over $100,000 seized from a medical marijuana entrepreneur and his family last year. In January of 2016, law enforcement raided Med-West Distribution, a San Diego company that supplied several dispensaries with cannabis oils, edibles, creams, and other products. Agents seized the company's inventory, business records, almost $325,000 in cash, and arrested two employees, who were not charged with any crime.
Shortly thereafter, the District Attorney's Office froze the bank accounts of the business owner, James Slatic, as well as those of his family. Authorities took $55,000 from Slatic's account, $34,000 from his wife's account, and $5,000 from each of his two daughters' accounts. However, neither the family nor the business were actually charged with criminal wrongdoing.
After an entire year passed with no charges filed, Slatic's attorneys argued that the money should be returned. The District Attorney's Office opposed the motion, arguing that “the investigation remains under review for potential criminal charges.” Last Friday, Superior Court Judge Tamila E. Ipema ruled that District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis must return the money.
“Investigations have been ongoing since January 2016 and there is no indication … that criminal charges are going to be filed in this case in the near future,” Ipema wrote. “The People cannot hold on the Claimant’s money indefinitely without having filed any charges against any of them at the present time,” she wrote in the order.
Attorney Wesley Hottot of the Institute for Justice, who handled Slatic's case, said that law enforcement agencies were exploiting asset forfeiture rules in order to boost their own budgets. “This case was never about public safety; it was about policing for profit,” he said. “The Slatics’ ordeal illustrates why the government should not have the power to take people’s property without charging anyone with a crime.”
“It’s about time,” Slatic said of the court's decision. “We did nothing wrong. My business operated openly and legally for more than two years; we paid taxes and had a retirement program for our 35 employees. No one broke any laws, but the District Attorney swooped in and took everything from me and my family, even though they had no connection to my business. Our lives were turned upside down. It felt like we were robbed — by the police.”