The battle between local governments and medical marijuana dispensaries escalated Wednesday when about 200 law-enforcement officers raided five shops.
All are in unincorporated Fresno County – four along Clovis Avenue in the county island of Tarpey Village and another in Friant.
Sheriff Margaret Mims said she believes the dispensaries are making a profit from marijuana sales, which is illegal under state law.
"These are not collectives," she said. "They are store-front dispensaries."
None of the shops were shut down, but officers seized their marijuana in addition to serving search warrants seeking bank and telephone records.
Wednesday's sweep added Fresno County to the list of California cities and counties that have gotten tough with dispensaries – most notably the city of Fresno's ban that reached court before it became permanent.
The Tarpey Village crackdown couldn't have come soon enough, said some neighbors. But dispensary clients said they were disappointed that yet another source of medical marijuana was being targeted.
Mims and county Supervisor Debbie Poochigian, whose district includes the Clovis Avenue-area dispensaries, said they routinely receive complaints from neighbors about illegal drug deals and excessive traffic.
The dispensaries line the west side of Clovis Avenue starting near Ashlan Avenue. In a half-mile stretch there's Garden Ablaze, EarthSource, Cafe 215 Collective and Buds 4 Life Collective.
Residents say collective customers smoke marijuana in the neighborhood, block driveways, leave trash and urinate in their yards. They say they are afraid to let their children play outside.
"This neighborhood is not safe anymore," said Dawn Dussell, who recently moved back to the area. "I'm so happy something is being done."
Tanis Thacker, Dussell's 12-year-old brother, said he saw a collective customer urinate in his yard Tuesday.
The traffic is so bad, Tanis said, that he has nearly been hit by cars three times.
"I've lost hope for this neighborhood," he said. "I'm embarrassed to live here."
Poochigian said she would like to see the dispensaries shut down.
"They're illegal in cities, and I'm hoping the board will do the same for Fresno County," she said.
In July, the county Board of Supervisors enacted a moratorium on new medical marijuana dispensaries, hoping to gain time to draw up regulations for the relatively new industry. The regulations are being drafted and are expected to prohibit more dispensaries from opening.
The county said it would decide on a case-by-case basis whether existing dispensaries could continue operating. The fate of the dispensaries under the forthcoming regulations is yet to be determined.
The city of Fresno bars the dispensaries, and city officials said Wednesday they're not aware of any illicit operations.
Mims is scheduled to have a news conference this morning to speak about the investigation.
On Wednesday, she said the seizures came after a six-month investigation. Local, state and federal agents seized records at the dispensaries shortly before 11 a.m. Besides the four shops closely bunched along Clovis Avenue, a fifth collective – Buds 4 Life North in Friant – also was searched.
Warrants also were served at five residences and two warehouses.
No arrests were made, and customers were not targeted, although they were interviewed by officers, Mims said.
Chris Rice, who said he was a client at Buds 4 Life on Clovis Avenue, arrived at the dispensary during the law-enforcement operation. He said he uses marijuana to manage pain from a knee injury.
"I don't like it at all," Rice said of the crack-down. "I need my medication."
He said Wednesday's law-enforcement effort would not stop him from obtaining marijuana.
"I'm probably going to go and buy it from someone on the street," Rice said.
Ryan Jackson, who was in Buds 4 Life when the search warrants were served, said officers asked him how much money he pays for medical marijuana, which he said he uses for back pain.
He said people with chronic pain need marijuana dispensaries. He said he doesn't like taking painkillers because they make him fall asleep.
"All the stuff here is safe and it's grown organically," Jackson said.
Imogene Ballew, 90, who has lived in the neighborhood for 57 years, said she appreciated "with all my heart" the search warrants being served.
She said she used to walk for exercise from her home to Clovis Avenue past the Buds 4 Life building before the collective opened.
But now, said Ballew, "I don't dare do that."