|The little dispensary that could: MediLeaf is still open, despite the efforts of the Gilroy, Calif., City Council|
A Superior Court judge handed down a ruling Tuesday keeping Gilroy, California’s new medical marijuana dispensary open for now, prompting a city councilman to call for a refund from the city’s legal firm.
MediLeaf owners embraced and sighed with relief in San Jose when Judge Kevin Murphy denied the City of Gilroy’s legal request for an injunction to shut the dispensary down immediately until after a trial ended, reports Jonathan Partridge of the Gilroy Dispatch.
The dispensary could open remain for a year or longer as the case winds its way through the labyrinthine legal process.
If that sounds expensive for the city, yes, it is. Councilman Craig Gartman said this week the he’d heard litigation could cost the city at least $250,000, and maybe up to half a million dollars.
|City of Gilroy|
|Gilroy Councilman Perry Woodward|
Councilman Perry Woodward, who’s a lawyer himself, has said for some time that a legal battle against MediLeaf would be too costly. Woodward said he saw this coming and that San Jose-based Berliner-Cohen, the city’s law firm, should have seen it coming as well.
Woodward requested Wednesday that the council discuss a refund from Berliner-Cohen during its next meeting.
“How much are we going to squander on Berliner over this?” asked Woodward in an email that reporter Partridge described as “terse and pointed.”
The email was addressed to the city council, City Administrator Tom Haglund, City Attorney Linda Callon (who also works for Berliner-Cohen but gave a neighboring city different advice) and Police Chief Denise Turner.
Berliner-Cohen charges the city $226 an hour with the exception of discounts for “special matters.” Those could include issues related to the dispensary, according to City Finance Director Christina Turner.
Councilman Woodward said he “would not be surprised” if the city had already spent $20,000 trying to shut the dispensary down.
MediLeaf opened Nov. 9 without a business license; its lawyers maintain that no license is necessary, since the dispensary operates as a non-profit collective.
Four members of the council voted a week later to allow litigation to go forward against the dispensary — but the vote was taken in a controversial closed session that was boycotted by three council members (Gartman, Woodward, and Peter Arellano) who believed the meeting should have been public.
The three seem to have been vindicated Tuesday when Judge Murphy said the council had committed a Brown Act violation. The Brown Act, passed by the California Legislature in 1953, guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies.
Judge Murphy cited the open government violation as one of three reasons for denying the injunction. He also said MediLeaf would not cause “irreparable harm,” as the city claimed, by staying open, adding that more harm would be done to the dispensary and its customers if it were forced to close. In addition, the judge ruled there were factual and legal issues in need of exploration, and that it is unclear which side would prevail in a trial.
MediLeaf officials and representatives from Americans for Safe Access (ASA) exchanged hugs outside the courtroom after the decision, Partridge reports.
“It sounds like the city slighted us, and now they’re going to be called to answer,” said MediLeaf co-director Batzi Kuburovich.
“I don’t understand why the citizens of Gilroy are so upset and would like MediLeaf out of our community,” said local blogger Tobi Whaley. “I would much rather have people going to get their marijuana legally from a local dispensary than from some gang bangers in Christmas Hill Park.”