Dispensary guidelines applauded

August 25, 2008

Brandon Lowrey, Los Angeles Daily News

 NORTHRIDGE - As California Attorney General Jerry Brown rolled out medical-marijuana guidelines Monday, state agents wrapped up a rare dispensary bust in which the owner of a Northridge pot shop and an associate were arrested.

The guidelines say marijuana dispensaries shouldn't operate for profit and ought to keep detailed and accurate records on patients.

The news was hailed by medical-marijuana advocates, who saw it as an acknowledgment that dispensaries can be legal under California's vaguely worded pot laws and hoped for fewer federal raids, as long as they're not operating for profit.

"The top law enforcement officer in the state is saying these entities are legal in state law, and that sends a message to the federal government that they ought to back off," said Kris Hermes, a spokesman for Americans for Safe Access. "Really, this is like the final chapter of California's implementation of its medical-marijuana law."

The guidelines aimed to clarify the state's medical-marijuana laws, which have caused varied and confused responses from local law enforcement, but have led to an aggressive federal crackdown on the dispensaries.

Federal law makes marijuana illegal in all circumstances. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that the state law doesn't shield California users, sellers and growers from federal prosecution.

Brown's announcement came just days after state drug agents raided Today's Health Care in Northridge and shut down five related "grow houses" in Los Angeles neighborhoods over the weekend.

On Friday, agents arrested Nathan Holtz, 37, and Today's Health Care owner Louis Godman, 40. Officials believe Holtz is a middleman between Northern California growers and Godman's dispensary.

At the time of the arrest, the two had six pounds of marijuana and $9,000 in cash on them. Each has been charged with two felony counts of possessing and selling marijuana, said Christine Gasparac, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office.

In the grow houses, agents seized 1,100 high-grade marijuana plants with a street value of $6.6 million.

The store was not the target of the investigation, said Sarah Simpson, an agent with the California Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement. Rather, it was sparked by a tip from a confidential source, who said Holtz was making a lot of money through his dealings with growers.

Today's Health Care, which sits in a strip mall near Lindley Avenue and Parthenia Street, was closed Monday. A sign stuck on the door said it wouldn't reopen until Thursday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

brandon.lowrey@dailynews.com 818-713-3699

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