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Officials with the Los Angeles Police Department’s Robbery-Homicide Division are investigating two murders that occurred on June 25 at separate medical marijuana dispensaries in Hollywood and Echo Park.
The murders, which are believed to be unrelated, have renewed concerns about the dangers posed by dispensaries, and have prompted some officials to call for a new look at the city’s permanent ordinance.
The first incident occurred around 4:15pm at the Higher Path Holistic Care dispensary, which is located at 1302 Sunset Blvd. Four suspects entered the dispensary and robbed two employees at gunpoint. The suspects ordered the victims to lie face down on the ground while they stole cash and marijuana. Before fleeing, one of the suspects shot the two victims. One victim, who was identified as 27-year-old Matthew Butcher, was killed. The second victim, who was not identified, remains hospitalized in critical condition.
The second incident occurred around 9:00pm at the Hollywood Holistic II dispensary, located at 1607 N. El Centro Ave., between Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards. The dispensary’s owner called 911 after returning to the shop and finding an employee suffering from stab wounds. The victim, Ari Packman, was alone in the business when he was attacked by an unknown assailant. Lt. Robert Binder, with the LAPD’s Hollywood Division, said he was pronounced dead at the scene.
Investigators have grouped the cases because they both involve medical marijuana dispensaries and they both occurred within hours of each other, but they do not believe they are connected. Capt. Kevin McClure, with the LAPD’s Robbery-Homicide Division, said the incidents appear to be robberies that escalated into violence.
“We had two people killed, but the circumstances appear to be different,” McClure sad. “There was actually a third robbery at a dispensary in Reseda over the weekend where someone else was shot, but that victims survived. These places are targets, and we believe the motive in all three cases is robbery.”
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck added that crimes involving medical marijuana dispensaries remain a top concern.
“We have had violent incidents where victims were robbed or murdered at medical marijuana dispensaries, and although there doesn’t tend to be a large number of incidents at any particular location, the incidents tend to be more violent. For instance, banks are robbed frequently, but very rarely are they violent,” Beck said. “We will put as many security measures in place as possible, and we will take another look at the ordnance to see if there is anything we need to do to toughed it up, security wise. “
Binder, who oversees the Hollywood Division’s detective section, also said that incidents do occur frequently at medical marijuana dispensaries in Hollywood.
“This is a cash business, and when you have cash and narcotics, robberies do occur,” Binder said. “There are a lot of difficulties in dealing with these places from a law enforcement perspective.”
The Los Angeles City Council approved an ordinance regulating medical marijuana dispensaries earlier this year, and approximately 400 that were operating illegally have been ordered to close. The ordinance allows dispensaries that were operating before a moratorium took effect in 2007 to stay open if they apply for a new permit, and both the Higher Path Holistic Care and Hollywood Holistic II dispensaries are among those that pre-date the moratorium.
Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich has vowed to crack down on dispensaries that are operating illegally, and the City Attorney’s Office has sent letters to more than 400 dispensaries notifying the owners that they must close. The LAPD and the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety will be checking to determine if any illegal dispensaries are still operating, and will forward the information to the City Attorney’s Office for prosecution. Dispensary owners face jail time and fines of up to $2,500 per day if they are found to be in violation, and property owners can have their permits to lease space revoked if they allow an illegal dispensary to operate.
John Franklin, a spokesman for the Trutanich, said the city attorney is a personal friend of the mother of Butcher, the victim who was killed at the dispensary in Echo Park. Franklin said Trutanich attended a vigil outside the dispensary last week and has offered his support for the victim’s family. The City Attorney’s Office has not indicated when it will begin to crack down on illegal dispensaries, but it will occur soon.
In addition, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, 5th District, plans to present a motion next Tuesday to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated portions of Los Angeles County. The motion would create unified coverage throughout the county, so dispensary owners could not move across the border from Los Angeles into areas controlled by Los Angeles County to avoid regulation.
Anyone with information about the murders at the dispensaries is asked to contact the LAPD’s 24-hour, toll free hotline at (877)LAPD247.
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