Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca on Wednesday took aim at the medical marijuana industry, citing last week's triple murder in West Hollywood as an example of how enterprising criminals have infiltrated some of the dispensaries.
Baca said the dispensaries have strayed from their original mission — to aid the seriously ill — and are now the target of criminals who see an easy way to make money and get drugs.
"The medicinal marijuana program that voters authorized years ago has been hijacked by underground drug-dealing criminals who are resorting to violence in order to control their piece of the action," Baca said.
The sheriff did not provide any specific examples, although there have been several high-profile killings this summer tied to medical marijuana businesses. In addition to the West Hollywood killing, which detectives said was tied to a scheme to buy pot from medical dispensaries and resell it on the streets, workers at dispensaries in Echo Park and Hollywood were killed during robberies in June.
There has been much debate about whether the proliferation of marijuana dispensaries has resulted in more crime. But Baca is emerging as a vocal critic of liberalizing pot laws, particularly a state ballot measure that would legalize marijuana use. The campaign to defeat Proposition 19 announced Wednesday that Baca and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) will head up the effort against the marijuana legalization measure on the November ballot.
Baca said he's concerned that the hundreds of medical marijuana establishments around L.A. County are making it easier for people to access the drug — and that is attracting criminal elements as well as patients with legitimate needs for the drugs.
"There are predators armed and seeking easy dollars in sales of marijuana," Baca said.
The sheriff spoke at a news conference announcing the arrest of a suspect in the West Hollywood fatal shootings. Authorities say that two of the victims, Pirooz Moussazadeh and Bernard Shahriar, both 27, bought marijuana from local dispensaries and other locations and then resold it for a profit.
Harold Yong Park, 31, was charged Tuesday in the killings. Detectives said Park told them he previously bought and sold high-grade marijuana from the two victims. Thursday night, a dispute erupted when he came to the North Kings Road apartment, officials said. Park allegedly killed the pair along with Shahriar Moussazadeh, who detectives said was not involved in the drug deal. Park allegedly took marijuana from the apartment.
There have been at least six killings tied to the marijuana trade in L.A. County so far this year. The Los Angeles Police Department has recorded dozens of lesser crimes, such as robberies and burglaries.
This June, four armed men robbed the Higher Path Holistic Care Collective in the 1300 block of Sunset Boulevard. One of the suspects stayed in the getaway car while three others entered the pot shop, disarmed the security guard and robbed the place of cash and marijuana. The attackers fatally shot worker , 27, and wounded another employee.
Later that night, the operator of Hollywood Holistic 2 on North El Centro Avenue off Sunset Boulevard walked in to find clerk Ila Ali Packman, 39, dead of stab wounds. Police don't believe the two attacks were connected.
Times staff writer John Hoeffel contributed to this article.