Authorities in Chico and Butte County raided eight dispensaries today in a criminal probe into whether the pot shops were illegally doling out marijuana to people lacking proper medical recommendations.
Chico Police Chief Mike Maloney said more than 100 officers from two dozen agencies served 19 search warrants on the dispensaries and private residences. One man was arrested at a local residence on a charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
The raids were an apparent response to the appearance of the eight dispensaries in the county within the last several months. Officials in both Chico and Butte County say local zoning laws don't permit marijuana outlets.
"These places literally sprang up overnight," Maloney said in an interview today. "And almost immediately, we started to receive complaints -- and not over just the mere existence of the places."
Maloney said a judge authorized search warrants after people claiming to be medical marijuana patients told authorities the dispensaries weren't properly verifying customers' physicians' recommendations for medical pot or "weren't even asking if they had one."
Authorities seized marijuana, computers, business records and cash at multiple locations. The operation targeted the Cascade Wellness Center, Doctor's Orders Cooperative, Mountainside Patient Collective, Scripts Only Services, North Valley Holistic Health, Citizen Patient Collective, Northern California Herbal Collective, and California Harm Reduction Cooperative.
"This is an evidence gathering mission," Maloney said. "We have enough information at this point to have a judge (in approving search warrants) make a finding that criminality occurred. Our next step is to evaluate that and look at what violations are alleged to have taken place."
He said authorities are investigating charges, including illegal possession of marijuana for sale, and will refer evidence to the Butte County district attorney.
Meanwhile, authorities are preserving the seized marijuana.
In cases where no charges are filed, Maloney said, "We fully recognize we may end up having to return it to the people from whom we seized it."