A California sheriff's department has agreed to stop stealing legal cannabis cash from an armored car company after the feds acknowledged that the raids were improper.
Between November 2021 and January 2022, the San Bernardino Sheriff's Department (SBSD) stopped three armored vans operated by Empyreal Logistics, a Pennsylvania-based company that transports cash for state-legal cannabis businesses. During the raids, sheriff's deputies seized more than $1,000,000 worth of cash that belonged to legal cannabis businesses.
San Bernardino Sheriff Shannon Dicus claimed that his officers were just doing their job, but the motivation behind the raids was pretty obvious. Under an “equitable sharing” program set up by the US Department of Justice (DOJ), local cops are allowed to keep 80 percent of any drug-related assets that they turn over to the feds during a drug raid.
California law explicitly prohibits state or local police from seizing assets from state-licensed cannabis businesses or from companies that transport legal weed money. But cannabis is still federally illegal, so the SBSD was able to turn the cash over to the feds. This made the raid eligible for the equitable sharing program, which would have allowed the cops to pocket more than $800,000 in cold, hard cash.
Empyreal shot these plans down by suing Sheriff Dicus, US Attorney General Merrick Garland, the DEA, and the FBI. The company argued that it was not directly violating any federal laws because it only transports cash, and never allows cannabis plants or products in its vehicles. The lawsuit also argued that because most of the money in the trucks belonged to medical marijuana businesses, the raid violated a federal budget rider that prevents the DOJ from interfering with state-legal medical pot companies.
In April, before the case even came up for trial, the DOJ acknowledged the error of their ways and returned every cent of the money that was stolen from Empyreal's trucks. The company pressed on with its lawsuit against Sheriff Dicus, though, and were finally able to come to an agreement last week. The department will not pay any damages related to the case, but have publicly promised to stop stealing cash from Empyreal's trucks.
“Both parties understand that each were acting in good faith when the stops were conducted and have come to an understanding that will enable both sides to move forward amicably,” the SBSD said in a statement. “Both sides also acknowledge that Empyreal is part of the solution to help with financial transparency and that San Bernardino Deputies are not highway robbers as previously reported in the media.”
An audio recording of the raid captured by Empyreal's onboard security system suggests otherwise, though. During the second raid, cops were overheard talking about how they didn't nab as much cash as they expected. According to the lawsuit, "one of the deputies said, 'That's it?' and chuckled,” Reason reported. “He then said: 'You set the bar too high.' When another deputy remarked that he thought they'd get 'a million or two,' the [first] deputy responded, 'At least we got over a million'."
That million-plus haul has now been returned to its rightful owners, and Sheriff Dicus is apparently ready to stop raiding the company's vehicles. “Now that the funds have been returned and after meeting with the sheriff, we are confident that we can continue serving state-legal businesses without future disruptions,” said Empyreal CEO Deirdra O’Gorman in a statement reported by the Associated Press.