Drug Law

Medical Marijuana Groups: L.A. City Attorney Guilty of Entrapment

| by ASA

Medical Marijuana Advocates Threaten to Sue
Recent city abatement actions unlawfully preempt Los Angeles dispensary ordinance

LOS ANGELES --- Medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA) responded today to the Los Angeles City Attorney's latest effort to shut down registered dispensaries by threatening to join the recently filed lawsuits against Organica and Holistic Caregivers. Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich has taken preemptive enforcement action before dispensaries have a chance to comply with the recently adopted regulatory ordinance, which took more than 2 years to pass.

"It's clear that the City Attorney is attempting to intimidate and close dispensaries before the Los Angeles ordinance even goes into effect," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who wrote a letter to the City Attorney and District Attorney threatening to join the lawsuits on behalf of patients if they aren't immediately withdrawn. "The Los Angeles City Attorney and District Attorney's contempt for the City Council and its recently adopted ordinance is unacceptable and must be stopped."

On February 18th, the same day a multi-agency law enforcement raid took place at a registered medical marijuana dispensary, City Attorney Trutanich 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 less than one month left before the Los Angeles dispensary ordinance goes into effect, advocates are calling the actions deplorable.

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. Soon after, during City Council deliberations on an ordinance to regulate dispensaries, Cooley commented in a November 18th interview on Public Radio's AirTalk that the Council's actions to legalize medical marijuana sales were "irrelevant, meaningless, and...reckless," and his office would "enforce the laws of the State of California, despite what the City Council [does]." In addition, City Attorney Trutanich commented in a January AirTalk interview that, "sales are illegal under state law."

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," continued 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.

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 throw into doubt whether the City Attorney and District Attorney ever planned on honoring the regulatory ordinance. If the City Attorney refuses to withdraw the lawsuits and recant the eviction letters, ASA will challenge the lawsuits as an intervening defendant, representing the interests of medical marijuana patients.