Over the more than 20 years California’s medical cannabis marketplace has been operating, bad actors in law enforcement were able to take advantage of the gray area of the law where producers operated under a constant threat, but seemingly the times are changing.
Even those who operated in compliance with Proposition 215, SB 420, then-State Attorney General Jerry Brown’s 2008 guidelines or various local ordinances like Proposition D had had zero guarantee their door wouldn’t end up getting kicked in. Worse, others would use the confusion of what exactly was legal cannabis was from 1996 to 2018 to take advantage of growers and dispensaries who lived in fear of law enforcement, especially those kinds of shady cop characters who knew operators were unlikely to report a crime even if they had been targeted.
With how well-positioned those cops were, it was a lot easier for them than most to fleece operators looking to provide to the state’s medical market or just trying to use it as a cover so Billy in Cincinnati could smoke OG Kush thanks to the mailman. One of the hopes of exiting cannabis prohibition was those kinds of situations would be a thing of the past in the regulated market as cannabis was normalized.
But part of that normalization premise was the idea cannabis wouldn’t be as valuable to criminals. Two years into the great California legal marijuana experiment, that is not the case; cannabis is more expensive in some places than it has ever been — all while the middle of the market flooded with an inferior product most wouldn’t want to smoke. Essentially, all the pot worth smoking is still worth plenty, especially when you start talking about the most elite product.
But right now we’re still paying black market prices for marijuana. As a result, those operating in the supply chain are still having black market problems. Compounding their predicament is the fact any flowers robbed will likely get absorbed into the underground market currently estimated to be three times that of the legal one. There is consequently plenty of incentive for folks who might want to clean them out.
This past fall, we covered the fact that there is a wave of crime hitting California cannabis operators right now. From stickup kids to professionals clearing out safes, from Sacramento to L.A. and all points between, legal marijuana businesses are under attack. All while dealing with the other burdens of just trying to exist.
One thing we didn’t dive into the crime wave was those shady members of law enforcement. And while they still have plenty to gain from their nefarious activities, it looks like they’re actually starting to see some consequences after decades of victimizing people too scared to speak up.
Real Badge But Fake Search Warrant
Earlier this month a former employee of marijuana warehouse in downtown L.A., Christopher Myung Kim, 29, of Walnut, was sentenced to 14 years in prison for his part in a $2-million armed robbery he planned alongside corrupt Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputy Marc Antrim, 42, of South El Monte. At Kim’s sentencing, where he avoided life, two additional years were tacked on to the mandatory minimum.
Last fall, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California broke down what they alleged happened on the night of October 29, 2018. At approximately 3 a.m., Atrim and six other people robbed the warehouse after Antrim, dressed in an L.A.S.D. uniform, flashed his real badge with a fake search warrant to gain access to the warehouse.
Once inside, Atrim detained the warehouse’s security guards in the back of an LASD Ford Explorer. According to the DOJ, Antrim and the group of fake cops were able to get their hands on more than 1,200 pounds of marijuana. And as seen with other recent cannabis robberies, they made off with two large commercial safes containing more than $600,000 in cash and money orders and other items of value from the warehouse. This all happened over the course of two hours, and that’s the biggest cash haul we’ve head of in one of these pot robberies in recent times (although, if you got robbed for more, you probably aren’t telling anyone).
The flowers could have been worth anywhere from another $600,000 at $500 a pound if they were dirt, to $2.4 million for some quality indoor at $2,000 a pound, still a bit below top-shelf prices.
Kim gave Antrim all the details he would need for the robbery to go off without a hitch, from the warehouse’s layout and operations plans to its general security infrastructure.
“Kim also gave Antrim the warehouse’s blueprints, noting where security guards likely would be stationed and which rooms Antrim and their co-conspirators should “hit” to ensure that the most valuable items were stolen,” the Feds noted.
After the robbery, Antrim drove a rental truck loaded with the score to a storage facility that Kim rented the same day as the robbery. Antrim and another coconspirator dropped off $1.5 million worth of pot under the impression Kim would flip it in a day.
Antrim would be arrested a little over a week later, on November 8, on a federal criminal complaint. He filed a guilty plea last March based on a deal he made with prosecutors. His sentencing is scheduled for this March. The delay was likely to assure cooperation if needed against five other defendants who ended up pleading guilty for their involvement in the robbery.
But this is far from an L.A. problem despite the spotlight on the sheriff over Antrim.
Last month, eight drivers who said they were robbed by the Rohnert Park Police Department north of the bay area in Wine Country settled their federal civil rights claims against the city this week for undisclosed sums as reported by the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. In two cases, police officers wrongly took about 380 pounds of marijuana and $62,000.
Rohnert Park also falls on a stretch of Highway 101 known to cannabis cultivators and professionals as The Gauntlet. For much of the last 30 years and still, harvest season brings a full spread of law enforcement agencies attempting to seize pot as it travels south to the state’s population centers.
The nation’s oldest cannabis reform organization told L.A. Weekly officers like Antrim and those in Rohnert Park are far from a new problem.
“Rotten apples in law enforcement have attempted to profit off of marijuana prohibition by utilizing corruption for decades, and it is imperative that as we move to a legal and regulated market we don’t continue to allow these bad actors to profit from connections and shady dealings,” NORML executive director Erik Altieri said.
Altieri believes accountability in law enforcement is a critical part of the legal marketplace being a success.
“If we want consumers and those entering the industry to have faith in the marketplace and in joining the legalized economy, we must throw the book at those engaging in corrupt practices and fraud,” said Altieri, “Wearing a badge should not shield them from legal prosecution when caught.”