Drug Law

Medical Marijuana Advocates Battle L.A.'s Effort to Close Dispensaries

| by ASA

LOS ANGELES --- Medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA) filed an amicus 'friend of the court' brief today, in an attempt to intervene in the Los Angeles City Attorney's effort to shut down registered dispensaries. In particular, ASA filed a brief refuting the City Attorney's argument that sales are illegal, raised in lawsuits against two Los Angeles medical marijuana dispensaries, Organica and Holistic Caregivers. ASA also argued in the brief that City Attorney Carmen Trutanich took preemptive enforcement action before the local ordinance has even taken effect. A hearing on the lawsuit's motion for preliminary injunction is scheduled for Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court.

"It's clear that the City Attorney is attempting to shut down dispensaries on the basis that sales are illegal, and before the Los Angeles ordinance even goes into effect," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who filed the amicus brief after threatening to intervene when the lawsuits were filed. "It's a disingenuous interpretation of state law to say that collectives cannot sell medical marijuana," continued Elford. "The City Attorney's moral crusade to shut down otherwise lawful dispensaries must be stopped."

On February 18th, in a series of aggressive actions against Los Angeles area dispensaries, City Attorney Trutanich orchestrated multiple law enforcement raids, sent at least 18 "eviction letters" to landlords of city dispensaries, and filed three "nuisance and narcotic abatement" lawsuits against two dispensary operators, claiming that sales are illegal. With approximately one month before the Los Angeles dispensary ordinance goes into effect, advocates are calling the actions preemptive and deplorable. A final City Council hearing on amending the ordinance to include a permit fees is scheduled for Tuesday. If approved, the ordinance will go into effect 30 days after the Mayor signs it into law.

Last October, Trutanich and District Attorney Steve Cooley both attended a symposium on "The Eradication of Medical Marijuana Dispensaries in the City of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County," hosted by the California Narcotics Officers' Association (CNOA), a staunch opponent of medical marijuana. Then, in November, after ASA threatened to sue Los Angeles if the city outlawed medical marijuana sales, a compromise was thought to have been reached between the Council and the City Attorney. However, public statements and recent enforcement actions have thrown into doubt whether the City Attorney and District Attorney ever planned on honoring the regulatory ordinance. Cooley commented in a November 18th public radio interview that the City Council's actions to legalize medical marijuana sales were "irrelevant, meaningless, and...reckless," and his office would enforce the law "despite what the City Council [does]." City Attorney Trutanich also publicly stated his position in a January public radio interview that "sales are illegal under state law."

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Advocates argue that the actions of the City Attorney and District Attorney not only amount to entrapment, but they also violate state law. "It goes without saying that dispensaries deserve the due process right to comply with the city's ordinance regulating them," said Elford. "But, worse than that, the City Attorney's legal arguments are horribly flawed and have no basis in law." The City Attorney's lead cause of action in its litigation to shut down registered dispensaries is based on a nuisance statute that the legislature exempted in SB 420, the Medical Marijuana Program Act of 2003. (See Health & Safety Code Section 11362.775.) The City Attorney also relies on the argument that medical marijuana "sales" are illegal under state law, something refuted by the legislature, the courts, and the State Attorney General.

Further information:
ASA amicus brief opposing LA City Attorney's legal efforts to shut down dispensaries: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/Organica_Amicus.pdf
Press release from the LA City Attorney's office on February enforcement actions: http://atty.lacity.org/NEWS/ssLINK/LACITYP_008867
Los Angeles dispensary ordinance: http://clkrep.lacity.org/onlinedocs/2008/08-0923_misc_01-19-2010.pdf