Image source: Institute for Justice
James Slatic was never charged with a crime, but he now has to go to court to get his legal business, his inventory and his $324,000 in cash back from the San Diego County district attorney’s office.
To make matters worse, 35 employees at Slatic’s company, Med-West Distribution, lost their jobs, their health insurance and their retirement accounts due to the seizure.
“It’s the dirty little secret of the American justice system,” Slatic told The San Diego Union-Tribune. “They can come in and take all your money and property just on the say-so of a police officer. Once they do that, you have to go to court and prove why your money is not guilty.”
Med-West, a medical marijuana business, paid federal and state taxes and was licensed by San Diego County to distribute marijuana and cannabis products. Medicinal marijuana is legal in California. The company even had a website. But in January, San Diego police and agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency raided the business and seized everything, even though it did not charge anyone. The district attorney then used asset forfeiture to seize the bank accounts of Slatic, his wife and their two teenage daughters.
Without any money, the business folded.
“I’m a 57-year-old entrepreneur and businessman,” Slatic told the newspaper. “You always think the laws are designed to protect middle-class gray-haired guys supplying jobs, then one day you wake up with 28 helmeted SWAT guys with automatic weapons breaking down your front door with a sledge hammer.”
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He added, “I have a drawer full of business tax certificates. We weren’t some clandestine operation. We were across the street from a Mercedes-Benz dealership.”
According to The Union-Tribune, San Diego police Detective Mark Carlson cited state law that “doesn’t allow manufacture of a controlled substance using a process of chemical extraction.” Slatic, though, countered that his business refined the oils but didn’t extract them.
“Based upon my review of Wells Fargo documents and documents provided by Schools First and North Island Credit Union, James Slatic has transferred significant funds from his concentrated cannabis extraction business to his wife Annette Slatic, who in turn has deposited some of these funds, at least $210,200 into her Wells Fargo accounts,” Carlson wrote.
Slatic is represented by the Institute for Justice.
“This case is not about crime fighting,” Institute for Justice attorney Wesley Hottot said. “This case is about policing for profit, and it illustrates the abusive power of civil forfeiture at its worst.”
The Institute for Justice argued in its legal motion: “Writing a check to one’s wife is hardly suspicious and the government has made no effort to show why it is suspicious in this case.”
A court hearing is scheduled for Nov. 14.
“The equipment that Carlson describes — a rotary evaporator — can only be used for refinement,” the motion said. “Indeed it is impossible to use a rotary evaporator to extract cannabis oil from raw marijuana, as expert testimony at the hearing will show.”
Authorities in San Diego County have collected more than $11 million in civil asset forfeiture over the past three years, The Union-Tribune reported. The district attorney’s office received $2.4 million of that money which it used for training, rewards, memorials and grants to nonprofit groups.
“One of the insidious things about civil forfeiture is it costs a lot of money to fight for your money back,” Hottot said. “The Slatics can’t afford to continue paying for attorneys. The only reason they are able to challenge this now is that they found pro bono counsel.”
Medical marijuana is legal in California “whether the District Attorney likes it or not,” the Institute for Justice asserts on its website.
“While civil forfeiture can be complicated, the Slatics’ legal argument is simple: James committed no crime; therefore, the government cannot connect the Slatics’ money to a crime. All of the family’s money must be returned under the California Constitution and the U.S. Constitution,” the Institute for Justice argues.
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