Medical pot still target of county

August 15, 2005

Shirley Hsu, Whittier Daily News

HACIENDA HEIGHTS -- The county will continue fighting to close a medical marijuana dispensary in the unincorporated community, but the process could take a year, officials said.

County lawyers, who lost a July 6 court case when a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled to deny the county a temporary injunction on California Medical Caregivers Association, will now try for a permanent injunction. An initial status conference is set for Oct. 13, but a trial might not take place until a year later.

"We are hoping it would be sooner than that,' C ounty C ounsel Tracy Swann told residents Monday at a Hacienda Heights Improvement Association meeting.

Medical marijuana advocacy groups will be watching closely.

"This is a very big deal,' said Rebecca Saltzman of Americans for Safe Access.

CMCA operators have been advised by their attorney not to talk to press or attend HHIA meetings since they are under lawsuit.

The federal government has filed suit to stop dispensaries before, and the U. S. Drug Enforcement Administration has raided the clubs to shut them down, but for a city or county to sue for an injunction against a dispensary is largely unprecedented and worrisome, Saltzman said.

"It's such a huge county, and there must be thousands of patients living there. To take away access from a place where there isn't much access (to medical marijuana) to make them drive to West Hollywood, doesn't make sense.'

County C ounsel Paul Kim said people hoping to open dispensaries in county areas will also be paying attention.

"This is just the beginning. In unincorporated areas, there are none but this one,' he said. " We are going to do everything possible to shut it down.'

Dispensary owners leased the office in March with the understanding the facility would sell "medical supplements,' Kim said.

When they contacted the county in May with their intent to open, there were no business permits required or zoning regulations in place regarding medical marijuana dispensaries.

In order to win a permanent injunction, lawyers will have to show there is an immediate threat to public safety and health, Kim said. Community members had questions as to whether the dispensary is required to pay sales taxes, where the marijuana comes from and why they chose Hacienda Heights when there are no hospitals in the area.

Dispensaries don't pay sales taxes because it is illegal to sell marijuana.

But the state Board of Equalization is looking into taxing sales of medical marijuana and could have a decision by January, Saltzman said. In some dispensaries that she's seen, marijuana is supplied by members, who may grow it at their homes or other pieces of land, she said.

Shirley Hsu can be reached at (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2306, or by e-mail at shirley.hsu@sgvn.com .



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