APD targets illegal pot dispensaries, but they keep popping up like mushrooms

By Greg Hardesty

The marijuana user drove up to the dispensary in Anaheim, at first oblivious to the significant police presence outside the aged, single-story, tan stucco building.

When an APD officer told him the shop was closed for business, the man appeared confused.

“What a trip,” he said.

Preferring to remain anonymous, the man — who said he was a medicinal marijuana user — said he had no idea that in Anaheim, a city ordinance bans pot dispensaries.

APD Officer Cesar Vazquez shows a handgun and clip that was found inside the marijuana dispensary.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“I’m going to Stabba Ana,” said the man, referring to Santa Ana — the only city in Orange County that allows commercial marijuana operations.

He was hoping to buy marijuana at Wax on Wax of Anaheim, which stands next to a dental implant business and has three green lights and a sign with a green cross indicating it’s a pot dispensary.

“I’ve spent a fortune in here,” the man said. “I didn’t know it was illegal. I pay my taxes. I serve on juries. I don’t get into trouble. I’m a conservative Republican. I wouldn’t knowingly break the law. That’s not the way I was brought up.”

After the city cut off the power to the building, solar panels were installed that power inverters connected to deep-cycle batteries to provide electricity to the dispensary.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Before he drove off, the man said, “God love you guys.”

And so it went on the afternoon of Tuesday, March 27, with several would-be customers pulling into the parking lot at 1611 S. Euclid St. only to be repeatedly turned away by three uniformed APD officers from the Community Policing Team and a handful of undercover members of the APD Vice Detail who were serving a search warrant on Wax on Wax and cleaning out its inventory.

Since Jan. 1, 2018, when Proposition 64 allowed cities to ban or regulate the sale and taxation of recreational marijuana in California, the City of Anaheim has been enforcing an ordinance it adopted last year that bans the cultivation, manufacturing and distribution of pot for recreational or medical use.

Different types of marijuana in glass jars sit on display at the dispensary.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

The APD has been targeting illegal pot dispensaries with the help of city code enforcement officials and building inspectors, hoping to stamp them out.

At first, the city’s strategy was to shut off power and water to illegally operating dispensaries. Wily dope business operators have gotten around that inconvenience by installing solar panels that power inverters connected to deep-cycle batteries that provide electricity to the dispensaries.

Police say they recognize the work of a bandit electrician who set up such systems at rogue pot dispensaries.

Various types of marketing techniques, presumably unauthorized, are used to sell marijuana products.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Since this January, city officials have been red-tagging dispensaries, making it a misdemeanor crime — trespassing — to enter them and thus allowing APD officers to arrest violators.

Prior to enforcing this stronger deterrent, all officers could do was issue citations to people operating marijuana dispensaries, giving them a court deadline to pay a relatively modest fine for violating the city’s municipal code.

Despite their best efforts, APD officers and city officials say illegal dispensaries keep popping up like mushrooms in Anaheim — even after the businesses have been red-tagged.

Anaheim PD officers perform a safety search of customers at the marijuana dispensary as police close down the business.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

There are some two-dozen pot dispensaries illegally operating in Anaheim, up from about 10 before the new state law took effect Jan. 1, says Sgt. Mike Lynch of the APD Vice Unit.

Still, that’s not stopping the APD from going after them, typically following a rash of complaints from residents who live near the dispensaries about loitering, littering, illegal parking and people openly smoking marijuana, often near schools and in front of children.

“I’m glad to see them doing this,” said Bob Cramer, a retired AT&T employee who lives around the corner from the now-shuttered Wax on Wax of Anaheim, on Cris Avenue.

Various types of edible marijuana include brownies.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Cramer said he’s seen people parked outside or near his house getting high in cars, and one time saw a couple having sex in a vehicle. On most mornings, Cramer said he finds fast-food wrappers and beer cans in the gutter.

“We’ve complained to the city about (the dispensary) for years,” Cramer said.

The late-March raid on Wax on Wax marked the fourth time the APD has served a search warrant at the site, which has been home to dope dispensaries over the years operating under different names such as Bikini Bong, said Lynch, who led the March 27 serving of the search warrant on Wax on Wax.

“All Sales Final” reads the sign as Anaheim police close down an illegal marijuana dispensary in Anaheim.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

A handful of customers walked out of the business and drove off as APD officers questioned three male security guards and two females who said they were volunteers at the dispensary.

One of the security guards was armed with a Smith & Wesson handgun. Last fall, people posing as customers robbed the dispensary at gunpoint, Lynch said.

All five Wax on Wax employees denied knowledge of who owned the shop, whose hours are from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. and on a typical day can take in as much as $20,000 in cash, according to Lynch. Customers first are vetted by a security guard behind glass in the lobby and cannot take their cell phones into the pot shop.

A wall mural from the television show “The Simpsons” greets customers at the entrance as police close down the illegal marijuana dispensary in Anaheim.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

One of the females told Lynch she resented being treated like a criminal.

“It’s the fifth time we’ve had to come back here,” said Lynch, wearing a bandana to obscure his face, “and we shouldn’t have had to. And, technically, you’re in violation of the law.”

APD officers spent a couple of hours clearing the shop of marijuana plants, wax, edibles and paraphernalia. They took samples of each as evidence and hauled away the rest to be destroyed.

Lynch estimated the value of the confiscated weed alone was about $125,000.

He and other APD officers, however, said the roughly $300,000 haul (which includes edibles, paraphernalia and cash found in the dispensary) is a drop in the bucket for owners of illegal pot dispensaries, who write off such losses as the cost of doing business.

A notice from the City of Anaheim to “Vacate Substandard Building” and “Revocation of the Certificate of Occupancy” is placed at the door of the illegal marijuana dispensary.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Before they were ordered to leave, the three security guards and two employees of Wax on Wax signed a disclaimer of ownership of property or currency, ensuring they wouldn’t later come to the APD claiming the confiscated dope or cash belonged to them.

Inside the shop was at ATM — regular fixtures at such all-cash operations.

APD officers found five small envelopes each containing $200 in cash — the presumed payments for the employees.

Inside the dispensary’s business office were two safes. A local locksmith came and opened them. One of the safes had dope and cash inside; the other was empty.

An undercover officer takes inventory at the marijuana dispensary and samples from each type of product to be kept as evidence.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Wax on Wax was red-tagged on Wednesday, March 27.

By the weekend, Lynch said, it had reopened.

APD patrol officers responded and people fled from the dispensary, Lynch said.

The red tags were reposted the morning of Wed., April 4 and the shop appears to be closed for now, Lynch said.

Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

The sergeant recalled another raid in which the pot dispensary employees voiced their eagerness to reopen even before officers had left.

Said one to an APD officer: “When are you guys leaving?”

An undercover officer removes a box of marijuana from one of two safes as police close down an illegal marijuana dispensary in Anaheim.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC