Almost a year after a joint drug task force raided a medical marijuana business in San Diego owned by local entrepreneur James Slatic and seized hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of product, equipment, cash - including $100,000 from Slatic's family members' bank accounts -- charges have yet to be filed against Slatic or the money seized. On Monday, the Institute for Justice, a non-profit law firm that represents clients pro bono, filed a petition with the California Supreme Court to ask for the Slatic family's money to be returned, which lawyers argue is unrelated to the business and not connected with any crime.
The brief, filed by Wesley Hottot, the lead attorney for the case at the Institute for Justice, says the Supreme Court should grant the petition because the San Diego District Attorney's office did not prove a link between the family's money and the extraction of cannabis oil, which is the one crime the prosecutor is alleging. In the brief, Hottot says that California's medical marijuana laws were amended 28 days before the raid to allow for extraction, therefore the crime being alleged was not a crime at the time of the raid.
Slatic ran Med-West Distribution, a medical marijuana company that had been providing hundreds of legal dispensaries around California since 2010 with medical cannabis products under the state's medical marijuana laws. It shut down after the raid.
The District Attorney's office has until February 6, 2017 to file a formal forfeiture action against the Slatic's money. In civil forfeiture cases, the money, not the person, is charged with a crime. The authorities can hold a person's money for one year before charging it with a crime. The DA's office says there was probable cause and they are looking into charges.
"The investigation related to James Slatic's business is ongoing and the case remains under review for potential criminal charges," says Tanya Sierra, public affairs officer at the San Diego District Attorney's office. "A neutral judge found probable cause that Mr. Slatic was laundering his illegal proceeds in his wife's and his daughters' bank accounts, and that assets are all tainted by criminal conduct."
During the raid on Jan. 28, 2016, officers from the San Diego joint narcotics task force cracked open Med-West's safe, and collected its inventory--more than 30,000 cartridges of cannabis oil and a couple of pounds of concentrate, plus $325,570 in cash. Days after, law enforcement froze Slatic's bank account, along with the bank accounts belonging to his wife, who works for the federal government, and their two daughters, taking just over $100,000.
Hottot says civil asset forfeiture laws allow for what he calls "policing for profit."
Static says that the financial pressure is mounting with his daughters in college and his business closed.
"The government, with its unlimited purse of the public, can continue to run out the clock as you amass big legal fees," says Slatic. "They crush you with legal wrangling."
Even though his business has been shuttered, Slatic says he will continue to fight.