The saga of San Diego-based cannabis entrepreneur James Slatic began on January 28, 2016, when his company, Med-West Distribution, a licensed, legally operating and tax-paying business was raided. His life was turned upside down. Not only did he lose his business, but all of his accounts were seized, along with those of his wife and even his teenage daughters’ college funds. Though he had, at that point, not been charged with a crime, it was still perfectly legal to have his family’s money taken under controversial civil asset forfeiture laws, which he refers to as “the dirty little secret of the American justice system.”
“It’s bittersweet, because while it’s behind us on a criminal and civil basis, I had to plead guilty to two misdemeanors, which doesn’t feel good because I didn’t do anything wrong, but it was the only way to get it behind me.”
The tides began to turn in May of 2017 when Superior Court Judge Tamila E. Ipema ordered then-District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis to return the nearly $100,000 taken from Slatic’s family. It was a hard fought battle, and Slatic credits the victory to the Institute for Justice, which took on his case. “It was the first cannabis case that they have ever taken. Their tireless efforts on civil asset forfeitures are really the only reason that we won. They are a 25-year-old organization of dedicated, driven people that are working for righting the injustice of our civil asset forfeiture system.”
Two weeks later, in a move some believe to be in retaliation for the favorable ruling, Dumanis charged Slatic and six others with 15 felonies. However, when Dumanis resigned as district attorney on July 7, 2017, the case lost momentum at the district attorney’s office.
Now, two years after the early morning raid that began the whole ordeal, Interim District Attorney Summer Stephan, appointed by Dumanis before her departure, has decided to settle Slatic’s case, charging him with only two misdemeanors. She also ruled to return almost all of the $324,000 that was seized at Med-West. As part of the plea agreement, $35,000 was forfeited by Slatic and $3,500 of that will be donated to Community Alliances for Drug Free Youth. Slatic received only a fine and one year of probation.
CULTURE spoke to Slatic after the deal was announced, and he was relieved, though rightfully angered at the entire situation. “It’s bittersweet, because while it’s behind us on a criminal and civil basis, I had to plead guilty to two misdemeanors, which doesn’t feel good because I didn’t do anything wrong, but it was the only way to get it behind me. It would have been another $75,000 in legal fees and another six months to see the process through and be completely vindicated. It is very expensive to fight the government and its unlimited resources.”
As he spoke of that fight, CULTURE asked about his thoughts on the upcoming election for district attorney of San Diego. “There is a public defender, Geneviéve Jones-Wright; I think she is a marvelous, fantastic and experienced person that would do a great job as District Attorney. I just think that with Summer Stephan, there is just too much of a track record of 12 years as Bonnie Dumanis’s deputy. I believe that having a new hierarchy in the DA’s Office would benefit everybody. [Jones-Wright] has spoken with me on panels. I am very impressed.”
Even after all he has been through, Slatic plans to stay in the cannabis industry, albeit in a different role. “I’m continuing,” he told CULTURE. “I just believe in it too much, as a medicine and as a cause, to quit. I will obviously be very hesitant to be in plant-touching businesses. I may work more in ancillary businesses like software or services, but I’m not exiting the business.”
When asked about how his family is doing after all they’ve been through, he let out a small chuckle and an audible sigh of relief and simply said, “We are hopeful for a much better 2018.”