LAPD Detective Supervisor Holcomb from the Devonshire precinct in the San Fernando Valley claims the department closed four Los Angeles medical cannabis collectives in recent days. Speaking with defense attorney Bill Kroger, who represents one of the collectives, Holcomb said the City Council’s ongoing effort to regulate these facilities is irrelevant because the associations violate state law. The extent of the police activity is still unconfirmed, but if Holcomb’s claims are true, this may be an early sign of an LAPD offensive against collectives in the San Fernando Valley.
Holcomb told the attorney that the collectives were illegal under People v. Mentch, a California Supreme Court case which limited the ability of cannabis growers to act as Primary Caregivers – but has no impact on collective and cooperative associations. The Detective also misrepresented California law when he told the attorney that selling cannabis was illegal under all circumstances. California Health and Safety Code Section 11362.775 specifically allows sales within the membership of a patients’ collective or cooperative. In People v. Urziceanu, the Third District Court of Appeal issued a decision affirming the legality of patients’ associations, and held that state law provides for a defense to cannabis distribution for collectives and cooperatives.
Detective Holcomb’s comments are not surprising or new. A culture of resistance to medical cannabis permeates the LAPD, as it does most law enforcement agencies. Officers often grasp at straws trying to explain away Proposition 215, Senate Bill 420, and the mountain of case law upholding our state law and patients’ rights. Holcomb’s arguments are remarkably similar to those offered by outgoing Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo when he offered a draft ordinance designed to close all storefront patients’ associations in Los Angeles earlier this year. The LAPD is apparently reading from the lame duck City Attorney’s talking points.
Law enforcement resistance to medical cannabis can not be explained by ignorance. Last year, California Attorney General Jerry Brown published guidelines saying that “a properly organized and operated collective or cooperative that dispenses medical marijuana through a storefront may be lawful under California law,” provided the facility substantially complies with the guidelines. This is not wishful thinking from medical cannabis advocates. This is direction from the state’s top law enforcement official.
There may be times when local law enforcement must intervene in a patients association to protect members and the welfare of the community at large, or to police bona fide violations of state law. However, blanket judgments and untenable legal explanations are evidence continued resistance and bad faith – not effective police work. Elected officials, voters, and finally the courts, must hold this kind of enforcement in check if we are to realize the opportunity for full implementation of state law offered by the new evolving federal policy.