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Once-popular Venice-area medical marijuana dispensary is barred from reopening

March 10, 2011 |  5:56 pm

Los Angeles has won a court order permanently barring Organica, a once-popular Venice-area medical marijuana dispensary, and its former operator from reopening.

In a judgment issued Wednesday, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson also ordered the dispensary and Jeff Joseph to pay nearly $326,000 in fees and penalties.

The dispensary, which was in a sprawling building on Washington Boulevard that straddles Los Angeles and Culver City, drew intense law enforcement scrutiny for its high-volume business and the charge that its representatives distributed fliers near Culver City High School.

“I feel like Organica was truly one of the big bad apples out there,” said Anh Truong, an assistant supervising deputy city attorney. “They were so off the hook with their activities.”

The city has used costly, slow-moving civil actions to close four of the illegal dispensaries in the city and is trying to persuade a judge to evict a fifth.

COMPLETE LIST: Dispensaries that have applied for lottery or were ordered to close

The city attorney’s office this week warned 141 dispensaries in letters sent to operators and landlords that the stores must close immediately or face legal action. “We hope that this process will be smoother and quicker,” said Asha Greenberg, an assistant city attorney.

Organica, which registered with the city in 2007 to operate under the moratorium, was raided three times. In two searches, about 290 pounds of marijuana were seized. Records indicated the dispensary had almost $5.3 million in sales over a 13-month period.

A preliminary injunction issued 11 months ago shut down the dispensary. Last summer, the property owner agreed to evict the dispensary and not rent to any marijuana collectives. In his ruling, Johnson found that Organica and Joseph were not adhering to the state’s medical marijuana laws and were violating state prohibitions against selling controlled substances.

Joseph said he would like to appeal the decision but also said he was broke. “I have nothing but loss and huge debt,” he said. “All the money went back into the weed.”

He accused the city of singling him out. “They’ve got a really big problem on their hands with these dispensaries, and they demonized me,” he said. Joseph has insisted the dispensary followed state law and denied it ever handed out fliers to high school students.

Joseph said the legal system was rigged, noting the judge issued a summary judgment rather than allowing the case to proceed to a trial. “It’s ridiculous. It’s just sad,” he said. Joseph also faces felony drug charges stemming from the raids.

The judge ordered the dispensary and Joseph to pay $130,000 in civil penalties for violating state laws, $88,165 to cover attorney costs, $106,549 for investigative costs, and $1,115 in court fees. 

-- John Hoeffel