Vote won't end Gardena's medical marijuana fight

October 24, 2006

Gene Maddaus, Daily Breeze

A day after the City Council rejected its license application, business was running as usual at the California Caregivers' Association of Gardena, one of the city's two medical marijuana dispensaries.

The council voted 4-1 Tuesday night to shut down both facilities -- CCA on Vermont Avenue and Nature's Holistic Caregivers on Crenshaw Boulevard. But with both proprietors mulling their legal options, the battle seems far from over.

Tony Martinez, a 60-year-old Gardena resident, bought $50 worth of marijuana pills and liquid at CCA on Wednesday. He suffers from arthritis and back problems, and said without marijuana, he can barely sit down.

"It's helped a lot," he said. "Otherwise, I'd be lying around in my bed watching TV all day."

The council Tuesday night heard from numerous medical marijuana patients, who urged them to keep the two dispensaries open.

"Not one person from your community has come and said shut these places down," said Richard Gordon, CCA's attorney.

Councilman Oscar Medrano said he was worried that the marijuana could get into the hands of children. CCA is around the corner from Gardena High School. Medrano said he had received marijuana that originated from both facilities, and had flushed some down the toilet and would give the rest to the police.

"I can't accept marijuana being sold in my city," he said.

Because marijuana dispensaries are not listed in Gardena's codes, both facilities stated on their business applications that they sell "herbal" remedies. Nature's Holistic Caregivers also offers African and Chinese herbs, as well as acupuncture and massage.

The council determined that by failing to disclose that they sell marijuana, the facilities had lied on their applications.

Councilman Steve Bradford was the lone dissenter.

Assistant City Attorney Steve Fischer said the city would send notices to both facilities ordering them to cease operations. If they persist, the city could take them to court. The city's codes already ban businesses that violate federal law, but the council may consider a more explicit ban on marijuana dispensaries in the coming months.

Gordon said that CCA, which is owned by Kwok Chan of Arcadia, could reapply for a license as a dispensary. The owner could also go to court to block the city from shutting down the business, on the argument that Proposition 215 made medical marijuana legal in California.

Allison Margolin, who represents Nature's Holistic Caregivers, said that its owner, Virgil Grant, reapplied for his license as a marijuana dispensary on Wednesday and would seek an injunction if the application is denied.

Gardena police Lt. Chuck Balo said the department has no plans to contact federal authorities to raid the dispensaries.

"We're sensitive to people with medical issues," he said. "We don't want to go out on a strong stance. We'll do it through the courts, and go slow but sure."

At CCA on Wednesday, a volunteer opened the door, releasing a strong marijuana odor. He declined to comment or give his name.

Next door, at America Auto Body Parts, proprietor Lidia Hernandez said her new neighbor poses a minor annoyance.

"I don't like how it smells," she said, in Spanish. "It's ugly. It's strong."

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