The owner of a medical cannabis business has reason to rejoice, now that a judge has ruled that the money seized in a raid of his company must be returned. Superior Court Judge Tamila E Ipema recently issued an order, requiring District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis to return more than $100,000 to San Diego business owner James Slatic. “The People cannot hold on the Claimant’s money indefinitely,” wrote Ipema in her decision, “without having filed any charges against any of them at the present time.”
The money was seized in a raid of his San Diego medical cannabis company 15 months ago, but charges still have not been filed. Slate’s lawyers argued for the return of the family funds under the grounds that, at the time, 12 months had passed since the raid. The DA argued that the law gave prosecutors a year from the day of formal seizing to file charges, and that they still had a few months left.
“It’s about time,” said Slatic of the ruling. “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. Then 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, and it felt like we were robbed — by the police.”
Slatic’s company supplied a collective of dispensaries with cannabis oil, edibles topical creams and other products. In addition to the family funds that are being returned, all of Slatic’s business assets were seized in the raid, including nearly $325,000 in cash.
Dumanis confiscated the funds under state and federal civil forfeiture laws, a tactic she has used in the past to confiscate millions from drug suspects. Her spokesman, Steve Walker, said the office is considering an appeal. “The investigation remains under review for potential criminal charges, therefore the DA’s office is not able to discuss the facts, the status of that review, or any evidence related to it. The funds ordered returned were previously found by a criminal judge to be tainted by criminal conduct.”
Attorney Wesley Hottot of the Institute for Justice says that the city has taken advantage of Slatic. “It shouldn’t take a team of lawyers and 15 months of legal battles for an innocent family to get their money back from the government,” he said.
He explained that law enforcement agencies exploit asset forfeiture laws to boost their budgets, as the departments get to keep a portion of assets seized. “This case was never about public safety; it was about policing for profit,” said Hottot. “The Slatics’ ordeal illustrates why the government should not have the power to take people’s property without charging anyone with a crime.”
By the start of recreational cannabis sales next January, California cannabusinesses will have a little bit more protection from civil forfeiture laws. A law will go into effect at that time, preventing law enforcement officials from keeping cash or property valued at less than $40,000 in federal cases, without obtaining a criminal conviction.