Pubdate: Thu, 04 Oct 2007
Source: Long Beach Press-Telegram (CA)
Copyright: 2007 Los Angeles Newspaper Group
Author: Tracy Manzer, Staff writer
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


City Attorney Says His Office Is Monitoring Process.

LONG BEACH - In a memo issued to the mayor and City Council Tuesday,
the city attorney denied his office is taking formal legal action
against a group of medical marijuana dispensaries operating in the
city without business licenses.

City Attorney Robert Shannon said his office was never preparing legal
action against nearly a dozen medical marijuana dispensaries operating
in Long Beach without business licenses.

"What they're working on is monitoring the progress, we're working to
see what's finally decided," Shannon said, referring to the state
attorney general's office and the court of appeals, neither of which
has ruled on the issue of medical marijuana dispensaries and whether
they are legal under current state law.

Shannon's comments Wednesday contradict those given by two deputy city
attorneys in his office during interviews with the Press-Telegram
conducted over the past three weeks.

In September, the Press-Telegram obtained city records for 11
locations cited by the Long Beach Police Department as medical
marijuana dispensaries. They showed four dispensaries had licenses for
unrelated businesses - including a barber and beauty shop, a retail
clothing store, industrial space and real estate business - while the
rest were operating with no license or permit of any kind.

Records also showed the city attorney's office decided in July 2005
that the city would not issue licenses to dispensaries, citing the
conflict between state and federal law on medical marijuana.

Deputy City Attorney Richard Anthony confirmed last month that all the
businesses were in violation of city law.

Since the 1996 passage of Prop. 215 that legalized marijuana for
California patients suffering from debilitating ailments, the city has
never issued a license to such a dispensary, he said.

Anthony also said he did not know why the city failed to take action
against the dispensaries operating illegally in the city for the last
two years, but added that Deputy City Attorney Cristyl Meyers was in
the process of setting up administrative hearings.

He referred all questions about the specific nature of the action to
Meyers, who said she could not discuss the specifics until the city
attorney signed off on the plan. Shannon said Meyers was merely
tracking a current case in Anaheim, not working on legal action.

"I knew nothing about this until I read about it in the newspaper,"
Shannon said Wednesday.

Neither Anthony nor Meyers returned calls seeking comment

In the memo to the council, dated Oct. 2, Shannon notes his office
issued a memorandum on July 5, 2005, to the council stating that his
office would direct the Business Licensing Department not to issue any
business licenses to medical marijuana dispensary applicants,
"reasoning that the City should not affirmatively sanction and
regulate activity which is illegal under federal law."

At that time, Shannon said in Tuesday's memo and in a telephone
interview on Wednesday, his office was awaiting direction from the
California attorney general's office, which has yet to take a position
on the matter.

In the memo, Shannon noted the Supreme Court ruling in Raich v.
Ashcroft that found "the possession and sale of medical marijuana
remained illegal under federal law, notwithstanding California law
legalizing such use."

The memo also noted Anaheim's recently adopted ordinance banning
medical marijuana dispensaries and Friday's decision by the Orange
County Superior Court that found the ban constitutional.

"We are monitoring this case in the hope that an appellate decision
will clarify and attempt to reconcile the inherent inconsistencies in
state and federal law," the memo states. "In the meantime, as in the
past, we will periodically review the law in this area, but do not
intend any legal enforcement action."

Laws Inconsistent

It is because of the inconsistencies in the state and federal law,
Shannon said Wednesday, that the city has not and will not take action
against the dispensaries operating illegally in Long Beach.

"It's permitted by state law, it's illegal by federal law, we're
awaiting clarification," Shannon said.

Of the 11 locations cited by police, the Press-Telegram found at least
three - B/C/C at 1824 E. Broadway, GJS Medical Services/United
Caregivers, 5544 E. Second St.; and Patient Research Center, 757 Pine
Ave. - have closed their doors within the last year.

Neighboring residents and businesses said the closures were due
largely to complaints and threats of legal action by feds.

Very few staff and owners of the remaining locations would comment for
the story. Only one owner and manager was willing to speak on the
record, although he asked that only his first name, Mark, be used,
citing concerns of federal prosecution.

Mark has run Herbal Solutions Compassionate Caregivers in Naples for
about a year and a half without a business license because the city
has given the dispensary no choice, he said.

"By not allowing us to apply for business permits they are forcing us
to operate illegally, that's not what we want to do," Mark said.

He and other dispensary owners argued they pay taxes to the state on
the sale of medical marijuana, and they pay state and federal taxes
through payroll, therefore they would be willing to pay any processing
fees for the city.

Several proponents said legitimate cooperatives would open their books
to authorities and abide by any restrictions the city may deem
necessary and that the city is failing to capitalize on revenue
generated by the dispensaries.

Crystal Gray, a Cerritos resident who gets her prescription marijuana
from Quality Discount Caregivers at 1150 San Antonio Drive, lashed out
at city authorities for not issuing the business licenses.

Gray has a litany of medical issues, including liver disease, which
she said prevents her from taking traditional painkillers.

"This is something we voted for, our government should be supporting
us," she said. "The city can get revenue from this, I don't understand
why they won't work with us."

In an issue as emotionally charged as medical marijuana, Shannon said
Wednesday, his office would not seek formal legal action without going
to the mayor and council.

"There's a total breakdown in legal opinion on where we should go with
this," Shannon added.

But at least one expert disagreed with the argument that legal gray
areas make it difficult to regulate medical marijuana.

The Rev. Scott Imler, co-author of Prop. 215 and a member of the SB
420 Drafting Committee - a bill that established the voluntary
registration of patients and allowed for patients to exercise their
rights to cultivate marijuana collectively - said neither state law
allows for profit-making dispensaries.

"The fact is, nothing in either law allows for the profit retail
distribution of black-market cannabis products," Imler said. "What is
authorized are cooperative cultivation projects by and for qualified
individuals only."

Qualified individuals are those who meet the state standard for
prescribing medical marijuana, he said. They must grow it themselves,
or belong to a cooperative growing garden.

A number of California cities have come up with ordinances regulating
dispensaries that are never enforced due to a lack of understanding of
the law and an inability, or unwillingness, to take control, he said.

"I don't blame them for being reluctant given the Supreme Court's
decisions and given what happened in West Hollywood," he said,
referring to a series of federal raids. He said early raids opened the
door for black market dealers.

"At the same time, it's really spinning out of control and I'm
concerned that one of these days ... somebody is going to get killed
and that's going to shut down Prop. 215 altogether," he said.

The danger for violence is very real, he warned, pointing to
cooperatives that were shut down in the Bay Area after they were
linked to criminal organizations.

The irony, he added, is that the indigent patients suffering from
terminal or chronic illness still can't access medical marijuana
because it is not offered through their pharmacies and hospitals and
the dispensaries charge prices they can't afford - $50 to $80 for an
eighth of an ounce in many cases. 
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