SAN DIEGO — When San Diego police began investigating the medical marijuana dispensary Market Greens, officers found more than just marijuana for sale: specifically, rock cocaine.
The dispensary has since been shut down on allegations of operating illegally in the Mount Hope neighborhood, authorities say. And two employees are now facing criminal charges — one of possession of cocaine for sale and another of being a felon in possession of a gun, authorities announced Tuesday.
At a news conference Tuesday, authorities said the investigation highlights the shadowy business of medical marijuana dispensaries operating without the city’s permission and the potential for criminals to cash in.
“These illegal dispensaries are risky, they can be dangerous and they are attractive to criminals,” said City Attorney Jan Goldsmith.
After shutting down a National City dispensary, city attorney officials heard that patients were being referred to Market Greens, and opened an investigation.
Undercover officers were sent in to make an undercover buy and paid $45 for concentrated marijuana wax. Officers also participated in a separate cocaine transaction at the business, officials said.
When officers with the Narcotics Task Force served the search warrant on Oct. 15, the officers were resfused access to the product storage area, which was behind a locked door, said San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman. Officers barged their way in and were confronted by an armed man, who began drawing a gun from his waistband, Zimmerman said. He quickly complied with the officers’ demands to stop.
Police found about 4½ grams of rock cocaine in the store and seized four firearms.
Four people were arrested, including one employee who has been charged by the District Attorney’s Office with possession of cocaine for sale.
A second worker has been charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. Officers found him in the parking lot of the business with a .40-caliber handgun concealed in his waistband and a semi-automatic magazine in his rear pants pocket, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is charging him federally. His background includes convictions of attempted murder, battery on a police officer and armed bank robbery, authorities said.
The dispensary opened up again for business three days after the arrests, authorities said. A court order to evict the dispensary was obtained Oct. 21 against the property owner, and the storefront closed the next day.
Authorities were initially unable to identify who was running Market Greens, but found it was an El Cajon resident with a criminal history, officials said.
The closure is part of a larger effort to shutter dispensaries operating illegally in the city, said the city attorney, who enforces zoning laws.
Authorities estimate about 40 dispensaries are operating illegally within the city. City officials have been shutting down about three a week lately, including one in the South Bay neighborhood of Egger Highlands on Tuesday.
The city has recently put into place a process for dispensaries to obtain legal permits; one of those permits is under appeal now, while 13 other potential permits are in the pipeline, he said. Some of the conditions include requiring licensed security guards on the premises during business hours, installing security cameras and alarms, requiring background checks for operators and posting the name and phone number of the dispensary’s operator.
“This is not about restricting access to medical marijuana,” emphasized Chief Deputy District Attorney David Greenberg. “It’s about making sure that legitimate patients have safe legal access, something the district attorney’s office has always supported. It’s also about protecting our neighborhoods and keeping people safe.”
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