Owner of shutdown pot store sues city

January 31, 2006

Stephen Curran, San Luis Obispo Tribune

The owner of an Atascadero medical marijuana dispensary ordered to close its doors last week is taking the city to court to try to reopen the business.

Attorney Louis Koory, who represents Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers owner Charles Lynch, filed a lawsuit Monday in San Luis Obispo Superior Court contesting the City Council's Jan. 24 decision to shut down the business while staff crafts a law to govern medical cannabis cooperatives.

The council's 4-1 vote, Koory said, conflicts with California's Compassionate Use Act, which allows medical marijuana with a doctor's recommendation.

"A city can not just prohibit the establishment of a (medical marijuana) cooperative," he said. "... There's nothing the city can point to to say, 'You're violating this ordinance.' "

Atascadero City Attorney Pat Enright, who recommended the council find the dispensary inconsistent with current laws, has said allowing Lynch's business to operate freely could pit voter-approved state law allowing medical marijuana against a federal law that restricts the drug.

Should the council approve an ordinance regulating medical marijuana dispensaries, Lynch will have to reapply for a business license under the new provisions.

More than a dozen customers and supporters turned out last week to speak in favor of the dispensary, which they said keeps them from having to make lengthy drives to cooperatives in Santa Barbara or the Bay Area.

Compassionate Caregivers opened largely unnoticed Jan. 9, roughly six months after a moratorium suspending such dispensaries in the city limits expired.

In a business license application filed Nov. 16 with the Atascadero Community Development Department, Lynch described his business only as a "health services provider association" and did not explicitly mention medical marijuana.

"He clearly subverted (the licensing process), and I have to think he did that intentionally," said Councilwoman Wendy Scalise, who voted against crafting an ordinance, preferring an outright ban.

Koory said three lines provided within the application were insufficient for a detailed description beyond the four-word phase Lynch provided. The onus, the attorney said, was on the city to press for a more accurate explanation of how the enterprise would operate.

"The city is claiming that somehow they were tricked into granting a license," Koory said. "It's up to the city to review these matters."

Koory said the suit is expected to go before a judge Friday.

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