Attorney David Chesley's Criminal Defense Blog

Landlord’s Property Seized by Federal Government

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After an undercover Anaheim police officer used a doctor’s recommendation to purchase marijuana from a medical marijuana dispensary located at one of Tony Jalali’s office spaces, the federal government began proceeding in order to seize the building in which the sale of marijuana took place in.

Jalali’s building consists of 12 offices and is worth about $1.5 million, one of these offices was rented to a medical marijuana dispensary in two different occasions. Confused by other dispensaries operating around town and banners promoting “the world’s biggest marijuana festival” the “Kush Expo. City of Anaheim,” Jalali believed that renting his office space to a dispensary was completely legal.

It is very easy to understand Jalali’s confusion, marijuana policy can be very confusing, with the state of California and the federal government having different laws regarding marijuana. California voters legalized medical marijuana in 1996, however this only protects law abiding medical marijuana users from the state of California, not the federal government.

Jalali moved to the U.S. from Iran in 1978 in order to enjoy the benefits of the United States, where the rule of law prevails. He is a computer engineer who is married to a dentist and currently has two kids attending college. “I pay my taxes, I obey the law, I have a spotless record.” said Jalali who never imagined that the government would seize his property without ever accusing him of a crime.

The city of Anaheim claims that they sent Jalali two notices about the problem with a dispensary operating in one his office to his Irvine home, but he denies receiving either of the two notices. The U.S. attorney’s office that began the seizure admitted in court that it did not notify Mr. Jalali before commencing the procedure to seize his property.

One of Jalali’s attorneys, Matthew Pappas, is currently representing four other clients facing similar seizures in Southern California. Another one of his attorneys, Larry Salzman of the Institute of Justice, said that the Los Angeles branch of the U.S. attorney’s office has filed 30 cases of civil forfeiture against landlords who rented office space to medical marijuana dispensaries since 2011. Salzman also reported that “threatening letters” have been sent out to an additional 500 southern California landlords.

Salzman suggested that the seizures of these properties are not for cracking down on drug use, instead they are seized because of what is called “equitable sharing.” Under equitable sharing, state and federal agencies share the profits that comes from confiscating property.

“If they take Tony’s building,” said Salzman, “the money is split between the Drug Enforcement Administration and the city of Anaheim. That financial incentive has driven a literal explosion in civil forfeiture activity.” Salzman also added that California state law prohibits forfeiture of property unless the owner is convicted of a crime.

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