Dispensary Death Watch #2: Latest Raids, Bans, And Moratoriums


Artwork: Jim Wheeler
Safe access to marijuana remains a distant dream to many patients — even in states which have legalized medical use

​One by one, the lights are winking out. In city after city, town after town, in states where medical marijuana is now legal, patients who had dared hope they would at last have safe access to the medicine recommended by their doctors are having those hopes dashed.
The problem? Political cowardice and the panicked reaction of the status quo.
Every week brings more news of freaked out city councils and county boards of supervisors who desperately want to appear to be “doing something” — anything — about the proliferation of marijuana dispensaries.
This phenomenon is so far mostly confined to California and to a lesser extent Colorado, but it’s unfortunately also starting to happen in Michigan, Montana and even Maine — where voters specifically approved dispensaries in November.
Rather than showing true leadership by showing genuine concern for patients and communities, too many local government officials are going for the easy, knee-jerk reaction. The level of disregard for the intentions of the voters — who clearly expressed their will by legalizing medical marijuana — is breathtaking.

Unfortunately, these skittish politicians are usually forgetting that majority support exists in most areas — even those considered “conservative” — for keeping dispensaries open and preserving safe access for patients. (Even San Diego, for example, in a poll showed 77 percent support for regulating dispensaries rather than eliminating them.)
Here are the latest breaking stories from the battle lines.
State is California unless otherwise noted:
Alameda Planning Board is considering a permanent dispensary prohibition. When the city council last year instituted an “emergency moratorium” to stop any new dispensaries from opening, staff promised at that time to bring back a permanent ban on pot clubs. If the ban stands up in court, Alamedans will have to make the long trek to Oakland to get their meds (or grow it themselves).
Big Bear Lake City Council members unanimously approved Dec. 14 two ordinances prohibiting dispensaries within city limits. The code prohibits land use in violation of federal law, effectively banning dispensaries since federal law doesn’t recognize the medical use of marijuana.
Brewer, Maine city council members voted unanimously Dec. 15 to approve a six-month moratorium on dispensaries. Voters in the state specifically approved dispensaries in November. Brewer officials say nobody has approached the city about opening a dispensary, but they want to “get ahead of the issue.” Police Chief Perry Antone said law enforcement “wants more time” to address not only where dispensaries could be located, but how the marijuana would be cultivated, distributed and transported. Chief, where in the new dispensary law does it say you’re in charge of all that?


​Centennial, Colo., has a lawsuit going to court this week that could answer the question of whether Colorado towns can ban dispensaries. CannaMart is suing the city of Centennial for shutting it down earlier this fall. Lawyers for the dispensary say they have constitutional protection because medical marijuana is legal, but officials argue the city is free to close businesses that violate federal law.
Danville‘s “emergency” ban on dispensaries has been extended to an entire year. The initial ban had been for 45 days. Town Attorney Rob Ewing said extending the ban would allow the town to see how lawsuits currently underway are resolved, which would give them a sense of how any attempt to ban or regulate dispensaries would be received.
Downey City Council, in a unanimous decision on Dec. 15, voted to extend its moratorium on dispensaries from 45 days to a full year, despite a local collective’s protest against the decision. Herbal Solutions, a Downey dispensary, triggered the original moratorium after being denied a business license by the city. Herbal appealed the decision, but their public hearing was suspended indefinitely after enactment of the moratorium. The extended moratorium lasts until Nov. 10, 2010.
Dunsmuir has extended its dispensary moratorium for 100 days, with the city council voting unanimously on the issue. The council had initially adopted a 45-day moratorium on Nov. 10. With the extension, the city has until March 22 to decide upon dispensary regulations.

SGVN/Staff photo by Watchara Phomicinda
A patient is turned away after L.A. County officials shut down Jam’s Collective, Dec. 17, 2009

​Hacienda Heights‘ newly opened dispensary Jam’s Collective was shut down by Los Angeles County officials, who say the collective didn’t have the proper county business license. The store’s manager, Tom Moreno, said he wasn’t aware the business was missing any paperwork. The dispensary, which had its grand opening Dec. 12, was turning away customers Dec. 17 after being told to shut down.

Photo: Longbeach.gov
Hardliner Long Beach Prosecutor Tom Reeves: “You can’t regulate illegal businesses”

​​Long Beach police officers “took enforcement action” Dec. 17 against a number of dispensaries, alleging “illegal over the counter sales of marijuana.” Long Beach cops are taking a hard line, following the lead of City Prosecutor Tom Reeves, flushed with anti-ganja fervor (“You can’t regulate illegal businesses”) just as L.A. County District Attorney Steve Cooley told him to be. The Long Beach raids were carried out with the help of Cooley’s office.
Los Angeles City Council members, in a preliminary vote on Dec. 8, indicated their intention to reduce the number of dispensaries in the city from its current estimate of 1,000 to just 70 stores. Councilman Jose Huizar said he came up with the idea of capping the number at 70 by allocating two dispensaries for each of the city’s 35 community planning areas. The dispensaries that remain, Huizar said, would be charged “fees” to “help cover the expenses.” Under the latest restrictions being considered, the number of dispensaries would be reduced even more drastically. All but five dispensaries could be forced to shut down or move, officials said Dec. 16, because of zoning restrictions keeping the collectives away from schools and residential areas.

Photo: Sierra Wave
Mammoth Police Chief Randy Schienle: “Clearly, I’m opposed to marijuana use”

Mammoth Lakes Police Chief Randy Schienle asked the town council Dec. 16 to extend the current 45-day moratorium to the maximum of just over 10 months “to allow more time to define the direction the town should go in the matter.” Schienle, along with Lt. Jim Short, Planning Commissioner Tony Barrett and Nancy Mahannah of the Mono County Health Department met on Dec. 1 with Steve Klassen who has filed paperwork to open a dispensary in Mammoth Lakes.
Mount Shasta became the fifth Siskiyou County city to put a “temporary moratorium” on dispensaries during a city council meeting Dec. 14. The 45-day moratorium, imposed immediately following its unanimous approval, expires on Jan. 28. The moratorium won’t affect the two collectives already open in Mount Shasta.
Napa‘s dispensary, Going Green, shut down in late November after Napa Superior Court Judge Francisca Tisher issued a preliminary injunction saying it had not been operating legally. “The court finds that defendants’ activites are a nuisance under civil and muncipal codes,” said Judge Tisher, who sounds like a real laugh riot. “The court finds that defendants’ activities are contrary to the public interest and that injunctive relief is necessary to protect against significant public harm.” Well, Judge Tisher, Toke of the Town finds that you’re an ignorant asshole. Who’s going to protect patients against you?

Photo: Nathan Morgan
Red Bluff Planning Commissioners Greg Latourell, center, and Andrew Christ, right, listen as John Prinz of Cottonwood explains why the city shouldn’t further retrist medical marijuana users. The commission voted 3-2 to prohibit dispensaries and cultivation of pot.

​Red Bluff City Council on Dec. 15 unanimously extended, with little discussion, a ban on dispensaries through next fall. The action, good for 10 months and 15 days, follows an initial 45-day “urgency” prohibition adopted Nov. 3. More than a dozen speakers showed up to offer input, most opposing the ban. “It’s the right of the people of California to have this,” said Donna Will, a medical marijuana advocate and Tehama County resident. “It was the people who voted for this.”
Redwood City dispensaries could be barred from opening for up to two years(!) after the city council approved a “temporary moratorium” Dec. 14. With little discussion, the council voted 7-0 to prohibit any collective from opening for 45 days. The moratorium can be extended in January for an additional 22 months and 15 days. City officials claim they need that much time to “draw up regulations” for the collectives.

Photo: Bryan Cordova, MySpace
Medical marijuana patient Bryan Cordova of Reedley, Calif,: “Unfair to people that have a legitimate medical need and require medicine”

​Reedley City Council members unanimously passed by a 5-0 vote the first reading of an ordinan
ce that would ban dispensaries in town. However, opposition from a lone opponent will keep the issue alive at least until the next council meeting. Bryan Cordova, a 37-year-old Reedley resident and medical marijuana patient since 2006, said he opposes the plan to ban dispensaries. “It is my feeling that this ordinance is partially based on false evidence, non-factual opinion, and overall is unfair to people that have a legitimate medical need and require medicine,” he said.
Richmond city leaders are considering a dispensary ban after several opened for business recently. Richmond now has six pot clubs, with three opening in the past three weeks. The collectives do not need to apply for business licenses and Richmond currently has no regulations on the books. The ban would shut down the clubs already open and ban new ones from opening. Dispensary owners said they may sue.

Photo: Kim Russell

​Saginaw, Mich., council members may vote to approve a medical marijuana moratorium ordinance Dec. 21, prohibiting not just dispensaries but also use, cultivation, distribution and the creation of “marijuana schools” and “grow stores” for six months or until a land-use ordinance is enacted. “The ordinance is a crime committed against the people of the state of Michigan,” wrote Gregory Switala, coordinator for the Tri-City Medical Cannabis Compassion Club, in an email to members of the collective.
San Mateo County dispensaries in unincorporated areas “apparently closed” after county officials denied their applications for licenses under an ordinance the county Board of Supervisors passed in April. In its very first decisions on dispensary licenses, the San Mateo County Licensing Board ruled Nov. 2 that Blue Heaven and the Universal Healthcare Cooperative both violated a requirement that collectives be at least 1,000 feet away from any school, recreation center or youth center. Universal appealed its denial, but the licensing board — made up of one member each from the planning department, the sheriff’s office and the health department — upheld the ruling 2-1 on Nov. 30.
Santa Barbara County is one step closer to a “temporary ban” on dispensaries. On Dec. 8, the county’s Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 to go forward with an ordinance putting a moratorium on new dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county. Santa Maria, Lompoc, and most other cities in the county already have moratoriums or outright bans on dispensaries. However, three collectives are already operating in unincorporated areas, and recent attempts have been made to open shops in Santa Ynez, Los Olivos, and Orcutt. While supporting a moratorium until regulations can be put in place, “We also endcorse a focused discussion of regulating these clinics, not arguments that would demonize such dispensaries’ law-abiding patients or operators,” editorialized the Santa Ynez Valley News.
Shasta Lake is considering extending for a full year a “temporary moratorium” prohibiting the establishment of any new dispensaries. The city council claimed it needs a year to review a series of recommendations being made by the city’s planning commission and also to consider enacting zoning regulations to govern the dispensaries. Shasta Lake’s “temporary moratorium” started out in September as a 45-day halt, then was extended in October for an additional 90 days. The moratorium was in reaction to two dispensaries that were approved by city staff because there were no regulations to restrict them.

Photo: sanfranciscocannabisclubs.com
Product from Sonoma County dispensary Starbuds Wellness Center, Cotati, Calif.

​​Sonoma County‘s dispensaries face an uncertain future after a Superior Court judge’s ruling which invalidates the county’s dispensary permit ordinance. Operators of Marvin’s Gardens Cooperative say the ruling by Judge Robert Boyd allows them to stay open and directs county zoning enforcement officers to back off. “We reopened last week and we are allowed to stay open,” said the cooperative’s office manager, Terri Worden. But county officials disagree, and they showed up Dec. 14 at the dispensary with a cease-and-desist order. “When the judge invalidated the ordinance, that means dispensaries are no longer mentioned in our zoning ordinances,” said Pete Parkinson, director of the Permit Resource and Management Department. “And if they aren’t mentioned, they aren’t allowed.”
Tehama County‘s sole recognized marijuana collective has agreed to close its doors, at least for now. Mike and Dawn Jenkins, who operate Red Bluff Patient Collective, have been cited six days a week for two alleged building code violations and two alleged zoning violations, ever since the county’s ban on medical marijuana operations went into effect in October. The county’s moratorium on dispensaries will last about another eight months, at which point the Jenkinses hope there will be regulations in place. They’re due in court Dec. 29 to face 35 criminal citations that could mean fines and/or jail time.

Photo: C.C.I.C.

​​​Tulare County dispensary owners were told Dec. 10 that they had 10 days to close. Tammy Murray’s 1,000-customer collective, Compassionate Cannabis Information Center in Goshen, is petitioning the Tulare County Board of Supervisors to reconsider its ban on facilities like hers. Last month the Board voted to halt distribution of marijuana in unincorporated areas. Sheriff’s Department officials claimed the county’s seven dispensaries are out of compliance with both state and federal law. The dispensaries — near Ivanhoe, Goshen, Earlimart, Tipton, Exeter and Porterville — were given the news by deputies. “Right now they are out of compliance,” gung-ho Lt. Keith Douglass said. Apparently mistaking himself for a federal DEA agent, Douglass continued, “They have to obey all state and federal laws, and federal law says you can not [provide medical marijuana].”
Westminster, Colo., dispensaries are digging in for a fight after a citywide ban was put in place. Westminster’s council members “appear uninterested in engaging with constituents on either side of the issue,” according to Eli Stokols of KDVR Denver. All of the council members were reportedly invited to visit both the city’s dispensaries before taking action, but none did.
Yreka City Council on Dec. 17 unanimously (4-0) extended its 45-day dispensary moratorium approved Nov. 19 by 10 months and 15 days. City Attorney Mary Frances McHugh said the moratorium is giving the council and the Yreka Planning Commission time to formulate an ordinance to regulate collectives.