Medical pot outlet closed by city

August 27, 2006

Molly R. Okeon, Pasadena Star-News

MONROVIA - City officials say a local business put up a smoke screen by misrepresenting the medical marijuana dispensary it opened, a claim the proprietor disputes.

The store, which was located in a shopping center on the corner of Huntington Drive and Mayflower Avenue, was opened for only three days before city officials asked the owner to close down.

Monrovia officials claim the business license approved was for a "vitamin and herb store" and that a medical marijuana dispensary would have required a conditional use permit, just as a bar or restaurant would.

But owner Steve Leon, who called his store the Monrovia Patient Collective, said he and his lawyer were totally honest with the city about the nature of his business and said nothing of a vitamin and herb store.

Friday, Leon faxed to this newspaper a June 26 presentation he said his attorney gave to Monrovia city officials that explained his business.

Steve Sizemore, the city's planning division manager, said he recalls Leon and his attorney giving the presentation a coupleweeks before the store's opening, which happened Aug. 3, according to Leon. However, Sizemore said, Leon did not make any connection between the medical marijuana dispensary and the store he opened.

"We told him (that) we didn't have a provision in our codes for medical marijuana dispensaries," Sizemore said Friday. "\\ came in and filed a business license application for that site \\ and said it was a retail store for vitamins and herbs. That's a permitted zone so the planner signed it off."

While city officials say they were duped, Leon claims he was told by someone in the planning department that since a medical marijuana dispensary was not part of the city's zoning codes, he should open up as a "retail sales business," which he said he did.

"In order for me to be legal, I have to say everything flat-out what I'm doing," said Leon, who is part owner of another dispensary in Hollywood. He said he already had 125 patients in the three days the Monrovia store was open.

City Manager Scott Ochoa said two councilmembers received complaints the weekend after the store was opened that a "pot club" had sprung up at the location. So, Monday morning, Sizemore and the city's director of development Alice Griselle went to the store for an inspection and asked Leon to close his doors.

In a letter from Griselle to Leon dated Aug. 7, Griselle stated it is illegal to dispense medical marijuana in Monrovia without a conditional use permit from the city's Planning Commission.

"The business license was issued because you informed the Planning Division that your business was the sale of vitamins and herbs," Griselle wrote in a letter provided to the Star-News by Leon.

While Sizemore said the landlord of the property had returned a month's rent of $2,500 to Leon to recoup his losses from the closed store, Leon claims he has received no money. He said he and his lawyer have left messages for city officials that have been ignored.

"I heard from \\ for three or four days \\, but I haven't heard back in two weeks," Sizemore said. "We return all of our phone calls."

A special City Council meeting was called Aug. 11 in which the council enacted a 45-day moratorium on all medical marijuana dispensaries so that they are not permitted anywhere in the city. Sizemore explained that the moratorium can be extended for two more years, depending on how much time city staff needs to research the issue and find out the legal ramifications of such a business as well as the appropriate zoning and regulations.

Once that is finished, Sizemore said, staff is expected to come back with a draft ordinance.

This issue will be further discussed at the Sept. 5 council meeting, Ochoa noted. Leon said he will be in attendance.

molly.okeon@sgvn.com

(626) 578-6300, Ext. 4496



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