Medical marijuana dispensary defies city order to close

October 13, 2006

, Claremont Courier

City hall last week sent a letter to Darrell Kruse ordering him to cease operation of his Claremont medical marijuana dispensary. The deadline for Mr. Kruse to shut down was Thursday, but as day broke Friday, the marijuana activist’s shop was still open for business.

“I’ve defied their rules from the beginning,” he said, “and I will until they remove me.”

The order from the city to Mr. Kruse was the latest in a long series of back-and-forth jabs between the two parties, and, as the battle continues, neither side appears willing to step down.

After the city council meeting Tuesday, City Attorney Sonia Carvalho repeated that she was confident the city has the right to order the dispensary to close because it is currently operating without a business license, and as such is in violation of the city’s land-use code.

Mr. Kruse, and other pro-marijuana activists who have publicly supported him, believe that because the city failed to respond to his business license application within 45 days of its filing, he had the right to open in the absence of any city regulations regarding such dispensaries.

Ms. Carvalho laughed Tuesday as she refuted that claim, noting that the 45-day rule does not apply to business license applications.

“[Mr. Kruse] is either getting poor advice, or he’s going on the Internet and only getting half the answer and not figuring it out,” Ms. Carvalho said. “I don’t know which it is, but I don’t care, quite frankly.”

Ms. Carvalho’s law firm, Best, Best and Krieger (BB&K), is reviled by Mr. Kruse and other marijuana activists because of legal action one of its other clients, the city of Corona, has taken against a dispensary in that city. Mr. Kruse has stated that one of his central motivations in opening a dispensary in Claremont is that he wants to confront BB&K.

“I think Kruse is trying to pick the fight, and I’m not going to get into a debate with him over medical marijuana,” Ms. Carhvalho said.

With Mr. Kruse defying the city’s demand for him to shut down, city hall is now weighing several other options it has in controlling the dispensary.

Mr. Kruse said the city did not visit his dispensary—called Claremont All-Natural Nutrition Aids Buyers Information Service (CANNABIS)—the day of the Thursday deadline to check to see if it had shut down.

The city plans to visit Mr. Kruse sometime this week, Community Improvement Coordinator Sandy Schultz said, and if he is not in compliance it will send him a second letter. If he remains in violation, the city will eventually fine him, she said.

CANNABIS now has more than 10 patients, Mr. Kruse said, with many of the newcomers from Claremont, Upland and other cities in the immediate area.

If Mr. Kruse continues to defy city orders to cease his operation, the city can—if the council gives such direction to staff—bring him to court to have his business closed by legal force.

As Mr. Kruse braces for a possible legal fight, he and other activists have been in discussions with several attorneys who they say are willing to represent them.

Dave Touhey, an activist and medical marijuana user who has appeared at the last two city council meetings to voice his support for Mr. Kruse, said he had procured a quote from a medical marijuana business license attorney to represent Mr. Kruse. The cost would be $20,000, but Mr. Touhey is a millionaire, Mr. Kruse said, and money is no object to him.

“Claremont does not have to be a battleground,” Mr. Touhey said. But “it’s going to be an invasion if they make it an issue.”

The council voted unanimously last month to issue a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries in the city. Its decision on whether it will allow such establishments to operate in the city is still pending. Council members have so far not publicly stated their positions on the issue.

“Our intent is to regulate the storefront dispensaries,” Ms. Carhalho said. “At the end of the day, it could be that the city of Claremont decides that medical marijuana dispensaries can open in different parts of the city. We just don’t know yet … so I don’t want to engage in this debate because I don’t want to get in front of the city council. They don’t have all the information; they’re waiting for a report from us.”

The issue, Ms. Carvalho said, is that Mr. Kruse is violating the city’s land-use laws, not that he is operating a medical marijuana dispensary. “And he may not be in violation of our land use laws in 6 months” if the laws are amended to allow and regulate medical marijuana dispensaries, she said.

A legal battle with implications for Claremont is currently taking place in Corona between that city and a medical marijuana dispensary in town. Corona’s city attorney works for the BB&K law firm—the same firm as Ms. Carvalho—but the city’s decision to take the operator to court was one made by the Corona City Council, not the firm, Ms. Carvalho said.

“We represent 35 cities throughout the state of California, and we’ve gone to court on behalf of one—Corona,” she said. Claremont’s current problem “is about Corona. That’s the story.

“We’re not advocates for or against [medical marijuana], we’re advocates for our clients,” she said.

The situation in Corona is very similar to what is happening in Claremont, and if Corona is victorious in its case, the medical marijuana dispensary in Claremont may choose to pull out.

“We had an individual come into [Corona] under false pretenses in that situation,” Ms. Carvalho said. “They applied for a business license, though they did not identify themselves as a medical marijuana dispensary. The city adopted the moratorium after they were operating, and the city then went in to get an injunction against them.”

The initial hearing on the Corona case is scheduled for late November.

“If Corona were to prevail in that case, I would hope that [Claremont’s operators] would just go ‘Oh gosh, it’s a loss, and we will stop operating. We’ll participate in the city’s process to determine whether a dispensary should be located here,” Ms. Carvalho said.

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