The bold new world of legal cannabis can feel a lot like the tired old war on drugs of the 80s and 90s, denying rest and relaxation for the L.A. entrepreneurs who sell us cannabis.
Only now, it’s no longer to ward us away from a relaxing high. It’s all about the money.
Hot on the heels of reports that the sheriff’s department and feds are raiding vans moving cash for legal cannabis businesses—a move later given blanket acceptance by a federal judge–comes the raid last week on one of L.A.’s most longstanding dispensaries, complete with guns drawn on owners and cash swiped from budtenders’ tip jars.
The raid on Boyle Heights’ TLC by Jungle Boys dispensary first came to our attention on Instagram, where the 16-year-old business detailed the unexpected appearance of roughly 20 undercover cars last Tuesday. Owners watched on video as employees were rounded up by a variety of law enforcement agencies including CHP, LAPD, and the Sheriff’s Department.
As the legal business reached out to its attorneys, soon guns were being pointed at the owners’ heads, with orders to get on the ground and detainment for the ensuing hour.
Owner Ivan Vanorwick told High Times of the tense encounter, “They won’t talk to our lawyer. They won’t look at the appeal paperwork… they just basically said they’re taking all the money inside the building. I’m like, wait, this is over the $66,000?”
Indeed. All over a late payment, the business was already contesting with The California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA). According to Vanorwick, the charge had previously been submitted to an appeals process, in an attempt to argue late fees racked up by Jungle Boys due to the agency’s own inability or refusal to accept payments at the height of COVID-19 infections.
After TLC management was informed that the CDTFA was there to take all of the money, the agency’s bill collectors took $174,000 out of the dispensary, and in a move straight out of the Sheriff of Nottingham’s playbook, even pinched the contents of jars left out to collect tips for the businesses’ budtenders. In a subsequent post, we see video of the cops taking money straight from the register.
All of this—the guns, the raid, the detainment—despite the late fee reportedly totaling only $66,000, a drop in the pan considering TLC by Jungle Boys reportedly paid over $18 million to the agency last year.
In the original Instagram post, a TLC rep illustrates the insult offered to their injury, when some of the cops present asked how much money they could make cultivating marijuana themselves, all while other authorities employed money counting machines to take “every dollar in the building” before telling Jungle Boys they were free to open back up and leaving.
Noting how they’ve been “over taxed and over regulated,” the post steams over how “the California Cannabis tax system is broken and we will all be out of business while all these agencies continue to get bigger every day,” echoing wider industry complaints in California over aggressive taxation dovetailing with poor representation.
The CDTFA, for its part, tells High Times, “This is our standard procedure for cannabis businesses or any business. We’re not singling out any industry or type of business. If you owe taxes in California, we do our best to collect what is due.”
Despite it being 2022 and despite the country’s more open views towards the consumption of a plant that makes you feel good and treats long-term medical problems, deep issues persist that make entering or surviving the cannabis industry, which is now legal in 32 states, ever difficult.
The uncertainty extends to local ganjapreneurs like Jungle Boys, who were targeted with firearms over a late tax payment they were reportedly trying to legally contest. And also affects national cannabis connoisseurs, as well.
Last week, the news quietly broke that the Biden Administration’s newly updated employee conduct guidelines will most likely deny security clearance to anyone who has invested in a cannabis business or in cannabis stocks, following 2021 in which actual White House employees were dumped over previous admissions that they’d inhaled.
The more things change, right?