California, Lake Forest

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California, Lake Forest

Postby palmspringsbum » Mon Oct 26, 2009 3:50 pm

The Orange County Register wrote:Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Lake Forest files complaints against 35 linked to pot dispensaries

<span class="postbigbold">City wants to close all medical marijuana retail storefronts immediately.</span>

BY ERIKA I. RITCHIE
The Orange County Register | 1 Sep 09


LAKE FOREST – The city announced Tuesday night that it had filed civil complaints against 35 people associated with 14 medical marijuana dispensaries in the city and called on immediate prosecution and abatement of these storefronts.

"We will initiate prosecution against the operators and landlords of these dispensaries operating in violation of federal law and violation of the city's zoning code," said City Attorney Scott Smith, making the announcement following the City Council's closed session. "They are not permitted in any area of the city."

The complaints are the first step in the city's ultimate goal of permanently shutting down these shops. The city's municipal code prohibits uses not explicitly allowed in commercial areas and prohibits businesses that violate state and federal law.

"It is unfortunate that some property owners and the operators of these dispensaries have taken advantage of Lake Forest's business-friendly policies and unlawfully established these facilities in our community," said Mayor Mark Tettemer. "Ultimately, our job is to protect our residents and the family-oriented character of our town through enforcement of the city's municipal code consistently and equitably."

Tettemer said the council's vision for the city's retail centers is a "diversified mix of permitted, complimentary businesses."

There are at least 10 marijuana storefronts selling their goods in the city – some less than 1,000 feet from an elementary school.

Just last week, the city Planning Commission heard plans from a new private school that had hoped to set up shop in one of the city's business parks. Before the hearing, the school's director, Jennifer Weathers, was told that a medical marijuana dispensary was near the proposed site.

The City Council has taken no position on the use of medical marijuana for personal use by seriously ill people where the medical use is deemed appropriate by a physician, officials said.

Contact the writer: 949-454-7307 or eritchie@ocregister.com
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Pot vendor promises peace with pastor

Postby palmspringsbum » Wed Oct 28, 2009 10:34 pm

The Orange County Register wrote:Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pot vendor promises peace with pastor

<span class="postbigbold">Earth Cann Wellness Center says it won't tolerate rule-breakers.</span>

By ERIKA I. RITCHIE | The Orange County Register


LAKE FOREST – On Wednesday morning, George Covarrubias patrolled the parking lot around Earth Cann Wellness Center.

The 40-year-old former boxer, restaurant-owner and construction worker is the newest line of defense the medical marijuana collective has taken to comply with allegations from nearby Chapel Calvary that its patrons are purchasing pot and partying in the adjacent church lot.

Covarrubias' presence paid off. By noon he'd told a handful of people not to hang out in the parking lot in their cars. He made sure that if they were legitimate dispensary patrons, they weren't loitering.

The owners of Earth Cann say they have a zero tolerance to any illegal activities and are doing everything the can to be good neighbors.

"We had no idea members of the collective were parking in their cars and partying in the church lot," said Shannon Saccullo, 43, who with her husband founded the collective as a way to provide an alternative for people with chronic health issues. "We want to get away from the riff-raff of kids that smoke pot."

Since learning of Calvary Chapel's allegations last week, Earth Cann has stepped up enforcement by hiring two security guards who patrol the premises during the collective's hours of operations. They also have revoked 12 memberships of people who have broken the rules of the membership-only club.

David Saccullo, 48, a developer, has also talked with Pastor Jim Misiuk and apologized for any problems. He also asked Misiuk to inform him first of anything that might pose a future problem rather than going to the city first.

"I'm just concerned with results and my main concern is still young people having availability to purchase the drugs," said Misiuk. "If that is stopped that's great. We have to wait and see what the results are. How this stuff is regulated so it gets into the right hands — that's what important."

All club members must show verification from their doctor that they are entitled to use medical marijuana. They must also show personal identification. A call is also put in from Earth Cann to the doctor's office before any product is given out. Once the product is dispensed it must remain sealed until the person has gotten home. It must also be transported in the trunk of a car.

David Welch, a Los Angeles-based attorney who helped set the collective up in July when it opened, said that the membership club is operating completely within state law.

"The collective is allowed by state law to cultivate, possess and facilitate transactions among members," he said. "We obtained sellers permits for the sale of marijuana and the landlord was apprised of the facility. Zoning in this business park allows this organization. The city is trying to enforce federal law despite the fact that the federal government has chosen not to enforce the law themselves."

Lake Forest is currently seeking to close at least 21 medical marijuana dispensaries in the city, including Earth Cann. On Sept. 1, the city filed complaints against 35 people associated with 14 dispensaries – and now the number of dispensaries being pursued is about 21.

Jeff Dunn, a partner with Best, Best & Krieger representing the city in the medical marijuana cases, said that since the complaints have been filed six dispensaries have closed but one to three new ones have sprung up. In some cases, landlords of the locations where the dispensaries operate are pursuing legal efforts themselves, Dunn said.

"We are not challenging state law, we're just saying within our city this is not an allowable use whether they are in compliance or not," said Dunn. "State law does not require the city to allow medical marijuana dispensaries."

Welch acknowledged that the city filed papers against Earth Cann on Oct. 22. but said the dispensary has not yet been served. He also planning to sue the city Thursday, contending it is trying to enforce an ordinance that violates the state constitution.

"The city has threatened that landlords will be prosecuted if they do not enforce the ordinance," said Welch. "They are creating animosity toward Earth Cann, telling other businesses that they cannot get conditional use permits to move into the business park because of Earth Cann."

Dunn said the dispensary cannot sue a city for enforcing its own city code. He added that before it sued the dispensaries, it notified their landlords that medical marijuana dispensaries wouldn't be allowed in the city. Earth Cann's landlord has begun eviction proceedings against it, Dunn said.

The Sacullos decided to form the collective after Shannon Sacullo was prescribed Prozac following postpartum depression with her second child.

"I was feeling depressed and anxious and I couldn't sleep," said the stay-at-home mother of two. "I didn't feel that yummy feeling with my baby. I was put on Prozac and felt numb. Three years later I'm at 80 mg per day – that's super high. I started researching alternative medicines. I found marijuana and it was natural. I did that for a little bit and it helped me get off the chemicals. I haven't used Prozac in four years."

But when the Sacullos looked for dispensaries to get the cannabis they felt uncomfortable.

"They were shady, it made you feel like you were going to glorified drug dealers," said David Sacullo. "We decided to make it what it should be. A place where you don't feel ashamed and you get help."

Earth Cann is a nonprofit funded entirely by its membership. The collective grows its own crop in Northern California on family land in green houses and indoors. Some of the products available at Earth Cann are pure THC oil, fine grade edibles, a soda line, salad dressings and honey.

There are about 2,000 members, including patients with cancer, cerebral palsy, terminal liver disease as well as veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Kim Byers, from Costa Mesa, has found a haven at Earth Cann.

"I've stopped going to other places once I found this," said Byers, 58, who suffers from nerve damage. "It's been distinguished and professional. When I went to other places it felt shady and under-the counter — like the stuff comes from who-knows-where."

What bothers the Sacullos and Welch most is that the city seems to have lumped their collective in with others.

"Unlike others we are functioning legally, Welsh said. "The city has grouped us with others that may be illegal."

Contact the writer: 949-454-7307 or eritchie@ocregister.com
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Pot lawsuit says Lake Forest is breaking law

Postby palmspringsbum » Fri Oct 30, 2009 1:24 pm

The Orange County Register wrote:Thursday, October 29, 2009
Pot lawsuit says Lake Forest is breaking law

<span class="postbigbold">Earth Cann Wellness Center files suit against Lake Forest</span>

By ERIKA I. RITCHIE | The Orange County Register


LAKE FOREST – A marijuana collective today filed a lawsuit against the city and its landlord saying the city's efforts to prohibit a legally operating dispensary violates state law.

The suit also contends that the city is forcing the landlord to act on its behalf in pursuing eviction of the dispensary.

The lawsuit – filed on behalf of Shannon Saccullo and Earth Cann Wellness Center – asks for damages and a court order requiring the city to regulate the dispensaries in compliance to state law. It comes in response to the city's efforts to close dispensaries and the landlord's efforts to evict Earth Cann, the center's lawyer said.

Lake Forest is currently seeking, through court action, to close at least 21 medical marijuana dispensaries in the city, including Earth Cann.

The lawsuit states that the city's efforts through its municipal code and specific ordinance to prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries in the city conflict with state law.

"Lake Forest took on these actions even though their actions conflict with state law," the suit filed by attorney David Welch said. "Further medical marijuana collectives and cooperatives are lawfully protected by California Heath and Safety Codes, the Compassionate Use Act and statutory provisions adopted by the State of California."

The suit also says that the city is interfering in the business agreements between a landlord and its tenants and that the city threatened the landlord — Olen Properties — with jail time if they do not comply with eviction proceedings.

"The California Constitution prohibits cities from delegating their responsibilities on private parties," said Welch. "Here the city is interfering with Olen Properties to get rid of something they perceive to be a problem."

Welch said it is the collectives' goal to have Lake Forest set up regulations for the dispensaries that are consistent with state law.

"They are trying to work around a ban because that is illegal," Welch said.

Earth Cann is a nonprofit funded entirely by its membership. The collective grows its own crop in Northern California on family land in green houses and indoors.

There are about 2,000 members, including patients with cancer, as well as veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Jeff Dunn, a partner with Best, Best & Krieger representing the city in the medical marijuana cases, said that since the complaints have been filed six dispensaries have closed but one to three new ones have sprung up. In some cases, landlords of the locations where the dispensaries operate are pursuing legal efforts themselves to evict them, Dunn said.

Dunn calls the lawsuit "frivolous."

Contact the writer: 949-454-7307 or eritchie@ocregister.com

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Gray areas in pot law help the ill, and those who are not

Postby palmspringsbum » Fri Oct 30, 2009 1:44 pm

The Orange County Register wrote:Friday, October 30, 2009

Gray areas in pot law help the ill, and those who are not

By JENNIFER MUIR | The Orange County Register


LAKE FOREST Michael Hawkins, a jolly looking man in loafers and a button down shirt, walks into King's Smoke Shop and asks for the cheapest pipe they've got.

Hawkins just came from one of five medical marijuana dispensaries that surround King's on the second-floor of a strip mall at Raymond Way and El Toro Road, and he's carrying a small paper bag containing cannabis called "OG Cush" – the type that he says stops his unbearable head aches and stimulates his appetite but doesn't make him feel high.

See, about a year and a half ago, doctors removed a tumor half the size of Hawkins' brain from his skull. In coming weeks, he'll start radiation to eliminate remnants of that tumor lodged behind his optic nerve. After the surgery, Hawkins says he was a drooling zombie, addicted to potent pain medicine. That is, until his son suggested he try marijuana.

"It took the pain away," says Hawkins, 59, a home building contractor before he got sick. "I hate losing control, and this doesn't make me … The benefits far outweigh any controversy."

Moments later, 27-year-old Jeff Kwollems and a friend leave one of the dispensaries wearing dark sunglasses and also carrying a paper bag.

"I'm a pothead to the core," Kwollems admits, saying he has a doctor's recommendation to smoke marijuana for an old snowboarding injury, but he'd light up regardless. "There are tons of potheads here. No one can sell weed on the streets anymore because of all the clubs (dispensaries)."

These two men both smoke marijuana within the parameters of state law. But the vast difference between their ages, ailments and attitudes contributes to the suspicion and debate that continues to swirl over the use of the drug 13 years after California voters made it legal for the sick to use cannabis.

The U.S. Department of Justice said last month that it would stop pursuing federal drug cases against defendants who comply with state medical marijuana laws. But local governments across the state are struggling to find fair ways to regulate and police dispensaries – or outlaw them all together.

And herein lies the problem: Medical marijuana dispensaries, their providers and patients operate in a legal twilight where generally the business they're in -- providing medical marijuana to sick people -- is legal under state law, but the specifics of how they do so may not be.

<span class="postbold">Who can smoke</span>

California voters passed Proposition 215 in 1996, making it legal for patients and their caregivers to possess and grow marijuana for medical use with a doctor's recommendation.

Ailments that qualify under that law are as specific as cancer and AIDS and as general as "any other illness for which marijuana provides relief."

Since then, doctors who specialize in making marijuana recommendations have cropped up across the state, advertising in the back of weekly publications and with stacks of glossy fliers left in medical marijuana dispensaries and head shops. They quote business men and older ladies and soldiers about how medical marijuana has changed their lives. California NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) lists 10 such specialists in Orange County.

Doctors are supposed to give their patients a full examination before they make a recommendation, which is usually good for a year. Many ask for medical records confirming conditions for which their patients are seeking relief. Most charge a flat fee, and some doctors will refund the fee if the exam doesn't result in a recommendation.

"Some of the doctors are crooked," says Monica Hernandez, a manager at the Lake Forest Alternative Center collective. "That's where the medical board should come in."

But if doctors are widely abusing the system and handing out prescriptions to anyone who walks in the door, then very few are getting in trouble. California Attorney General guidelines say the state's medical licensing board is responsible for investigating complaints against doctors.

Since 1996, only 10 doctors have been sanctioned after 21 complaints – the majority for recommending marijuana to patients without a proper examination, records show. None of the sanctioned doctors listed office addresses in Orange County.

<span class="postbold">Where to get it</span>

Before 2003, there were not many legal options for patients who legitimately had a use for marijuana: They could either grow it themselves, a caregiver could grow it for them or they could buy it illegally. In 2003, the lawmakers recognized another option -- allowing patients and caregivers "collectively or cooperatively to cultivate marijuana for medical purposes."

The caveat: They could not make a profit.

Attorney general guidelines issued last year offered further guidance: A "properly organized and operated collective or cooperative that dispenses medical marijuana through a storefront may be lawful." The State board of Equalization also requires dispensaries to collect sales tax and requires "businesses that engaging in such transactions hold a sellers permit," according to the attorney general guidelines.

The guidelines allow collectives to account for the costs of producing and distributing medical marijuana, and they prohibit sales to and purchases from people who are not members of the collective.

Still, that leaves many questions unanswered: What constitutes a "sale" of marijuana? Are dispensary staff and operators entitled to take a salary? If so, what amount is reasonable? Can growers in remote counties be members of multiple urban collectives and grow enough marijuana to supply all of them? Can cities and counties enact complete bans on dispensaries, and to what degree can they regulate them?

"Those are issues that the courts are going to have to resolve over time," Deputy Attorney General Peter Krause said.

So cities, law enforcement officials and medical marijuana advocates are left to interpret the laws as they see fit, then sort out their disagreements in court.

For example, more than 100 cities and seven counties have laws banning medical marijuana dispensaries, according to the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access. A group of patients sued the city of Anaheim over its ban, and their case – now in appellate court -- could determine whether cities can legally outlaw dispensaries or whether they need to regulate them instead, said Americans for Safe Access spokesman Kris Hermes.

The legality of medical marijuana sales could be next in court. Concerned by a dizzying proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles, the city's attorney and the district attorney last month promised to shut down dispensaries across town. They maintain that most are selling marijuana for profit in violation of state law.

"Sales are unlawful," says David Berger, a special assistant attorney for the city of Los Angeles. "Unless the collective can show that it's not a profit-based enterprise and its members are active and not simply walking in off the street, signing a form and paying $50 for an eighth of an ounce, then it will be viewed as a sale."

But advocates such as James Anthony, a land use attorney for medical marijuana dispensaries in Oakland, says Los Angeles officials are making weak legal arguments to support their ideological agenda to ban medical marijuana dispensaries.

"An effective way to do that is to say you can't sell, but there has to be a sale, to pay the bills, or rent," he says. "What product are you going to be able to produce and distribute without money? When my mother got ovarian cancer, she did not wake up and go to the back yard. A system that suddenly requires sick people to turn into farmers is doomed to failure."

And Hermes says sales are clearly legal because the state collects sales tax on cannabis sales and has decriminalized the distribution of medical marijuana among qualified patients and caregivers.

Still, like their Los Angeles counterparts, Orange County law enforcement officials also suspect that the majority of the dispensaries here are just storefronts for illegal drug dealing where dispensary owners are illegally profiting. And they've long focused on combating crime they say surrounds them, such as dispensary robberies, indoor growers and marijuana delivery services. They field complaints from neighbors concerned about suspicious activity surrounding some dispensaries.

Joe D'Agostino, an Orange County senior assistant district attorney who oversees the agency's narcotics division, says his office will prosecute any case where they can prove a violation of medical marijuana law. During the past two years, the division has filed cases against 1,270 defendants for illegal cultivation or possession of marijuana to sell. Most of those defendants bring up medical marijuana as a defense during some point in the investigation – just to see if it will work – but very few of those cases were against medical marijuana dispensaries or their members.

"We're not used to a moving target," D'Agostino said. "Robbery is always illegal. This sometimes is, and it makes it a little dicier to prosecute."

It's not easy for cities, either, and mistakes aren't cheap.

Garden Grove spent $250,000 after being sued for refusing to return 8 grams of medical marijuana to patient Felix Kha that police confiscated during a traffic stop in 2005. Kha later produced medical documentation that he was entitled to use marijuana. The city was forced to pay $139,000 in legal fees to Americans for Safe Access, which represented Kha, plus their own legal costs.

So far, the city of Lake Forest has spent $35,373.75 on an outside attorney for its civil lawsuit aimed at shutting down 14 dispensaries inside the city.

<span class="postbold">The reality</span>

The reality is that small growers from across the state – and a couple of larger, more commercial sellers – provide pot to dispensaries, advocates and patients say. Police also say marijuana is smuggled into the country.

Anthony, the land use attorney, says centralized cultivation would be more efficient for collectives. No city in this state has ever licensed a dispensary to do a large scale grow, he says. He believes that some more progressive cities could take up those issues soon, but says that federal law makes the idea of regulated, large-scale marijuana crops "suicidal."

Not only is marijuana illegal in the eyes of the U.S. government, federal law allows the death penalty for people convicted of cultivating more than 60,000 plants, he says.

"Medical cannabis dispensaries are obviously on the front lines of civil disobedience," Anthony says. "Most cultivators are a little shy. Their property is at risk, their liberty is at risk, their children are at risk."

Since there's no regulation, practices for cultivating and distributing marijuana vary.

Harborside Health Center is one of four licensed dispensaries in Oakland, with 74 employees and revenues of about $20 million, the New York Times reports. The city regularly audits dispensary books, and left-over cash is rolled back into the center to pay for counseling and yoga sessions for patients.

Jason Andrews runs a collective and mobile delivery service from his home in La Habra, where he also grows about 30 plants. He says someday he'd like to own a larger-scale growing facility.

Andrews says he smokes most of the pot he grows – he was in a car accident and has a recommendation for marijuana for pain from four ruptured disks in his back. He was a recreational smoker for 20 years before that. What's left over, he contributes to the collective or other collectives where he's a member.

Some of his patients – he's officially got about 150 of them – also grow and contribute to the collective. Many of them are small-time growers who raise the plants in their homes. Others are commercial growers in northern California.

A friend periodically travels to Humboldt County to pick up batches of marijuana. Andrews pays the friend, and distributes it to the members of his collective when they call for a delivery. Most pay, but he also tries to donate or cut deals to members who can't, especially those who are terminally ill. Andrews says he's got some of the lowest prices around.

"I try to get a little bit more on what I got for it," Andrews says. "All that money goes into my business account. That money goes in to pay my electricity, my gas in my truck for deliveries, insurance, cell phones and part of my rent on my house."

The proceeds from his personal garden go into his personal bank account. All told, he says he'll make about $20,000 to $24,000 this year after his business expenses. He also is collecting disability.

The way Andrews sees it, he's operating legally. He went onto Legalzoom.com for help establishing his collective – Code 215 – as a 501c(3) nonprofit. He has a doctor's recommendation for medical marijuana and has registered for two state ID cards – one as a patient and one as a caregiver. He's got a sellers permit from the state board of equalization.

If the collective makes a profit, Andrews says he'll redistribute the cash among his members at the end of the year.

<span class="postbold">What's happing next</span>

Orange County could soon make it clearer for dispensaries setting up shop in the county's unincorporated areas. Supervisor Janet Nguyen is developing a countywide policy that would regulate dispensaries, after learning that three new ones recently opened in Midway City.

"They're getting too many of them popping up, and there's no process at all for opening one of the other areas," Nguyen said. "What I was told is that the people who visit the three in Midway are really all young people. They're not the disabled cancer survivors."

Her chief of staff Andrew Do, a former prosecutor, says the proposed ordinance will contain provisions that allow the county to inspect dispensary records and ensure they're nonprofit enterprises. They'll also make sure dispensaries can't open near schools or day care centers, and he's considering a provision that would require all the marijuana dispensed in the county to be grown here, as well.

"I don't want it be a truck shipping it in from New Mexico or Arizona," Do said. "I also don't want it to be plants grown here and shipped throughout the state -- so that it's not a sham."

Meanwhile, as medical marijuana advocates and municipalities continue to negotiate their positions, the same disagreement is playing out over whether to legalize marijuana for all Californians – sick or well.

On Wednesday, the state Assembly heard some three hours of testimony about Assemblyman Tom Ammiano's bill to regulate and tax marijuana. No vote has yet been taken on the bill and none is scheduled. Meanwhile, activist groups are trying to get at least three different initiatives to legalize marijuana on the 2010 ballot.

Ryan Landers is a spokesman for one – The California Cannabis Initiative. He also is terminally ill with AIDS and was involved in the creation of Prop.215 and the state medical marijuana identification card program, he says. Landers hopes the state eventually will legalize marijuana for all, but even if that happens, he believes legal challenges to marijuana use will continue.

He's prepared for that.

"If I back off, I'm dead," Landers said. "Marijuana has saved my life, and I will not back off."

Contact the writer: 714-796-7813 or jmuir@ocregister.com

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