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Medical marijuana business is raided by federal agents

August 01, 2008|Tami Abdollah | Times Staff Writer

Federal agents raided a Culver City medical marijuana dispensary Thursday, tearing through furniture, cabinets, cash drawers and an outdoor garden in search of evidence.

Drug Enforcement Administration agents arrived about noon at Organica Collective in the 13400 block of Washington Boulevard, where they executed a vigorous search for money, records and pot as angry employees looked on. No arrests were made.

"Marijuana remains a controlled substance, and it is illegal under federal law to possess, dispense or cultivate marijuana in any form," said Sarah Pullen, a DEA spokeswoman.

Agents executed the federal search warrant on the same day that an appellate court in San Diego ruled that federal law does not preempt the state's law allowing the use of medical marijuana.

The ruling was hailed as a significant victory by supporters of California's medical marijuana law.

At the dispensary, agents left behind trash, piles of receipts, upturned couch cushions, bits of marijuana, an emptied automated teller machine and a safe that had been cut open and cleaned out.

Agents also uprooted marijuana plants in an outdoor garden.

Brian V. Birbiglia -- an employee and friend of the dispensary's owner, Jeff Joseph -- sat handcuffed next to DEA agents on a tattered couch outside the dispensary for more than four hours during the raid.

Next to the couch sat a box marked "DEA evidence," about a dozen black trash bags and two Trader Joe's paper bags. Some agents wore protective chest gear, black sunglasses and guns in leg holsters.

After the raid was over and he was released, Birbiglia was visibly enraged. Birbiglia, 35, said he is a disabled former Marine who has a prescription to smoke marijuana for a foot injury.

"We follow the law!" he yelled, his face red and his eyes teary. "We might as well have just got robbed by a bunch of thugs downtown."

Birbiglia found a remaining bud of marijuana that agents had missed, and he popped it into a pipe to smoke.

"They forgot this, and I'm going to smoke it," he said.

Clyde Carey, 50, of Marina del Rey was at the store Friday visiting a friend when agents burst in through the locked front door, he said.

"We heard some noise outside, and then the door literally burst in, and the DEA came in in full combat gear, told everybody to get on the floor and put their hands behind their heads," Carey said.

"It was like, literally, an episode of '24,' when they bust in on a terrorist cell."

Joseph, the owner, said he was at the bank when an employee called to warn him of the raid.

Joseph said he had been speaking with his attorney but would not comment on the amount of marijuana lost.

"It's going to be very expensive," he said, adding that he had "paid my taxes, every quarter since last year; I've paid my taxes."

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tami.abdollah@latimes.com

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Times staff writer Jia-Rui Chong contributed to this report.

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