Ruling mixed for medical marijuana store

December 12, 2006

Melanie C. Johnson, Inland News

A Riverside Superior Court ruling Wednesday granted Corona a preliminary injunction needed to close a medical marijuana dispensary in the city, but the collective will remain open pending an appeal.

Riverside Superior Court Commissioner Joan F. Burgess ruled in favor of the city and granted a court order mandating the closure of Healing Nations Collective.

She then issued a stay to allow attorneys for the dispensary's owner, Ronald Naulls, a chance to appeal her ruling, citing the need for an appellate court review.

Both sides said they see the ruling as "a victory."

"We are very pleased with the judge's ruling," said Jeffrey V. Dunn, an attorney with Best Best & Krieger, the city's law firm.

Dunn said the ruling supported Corona's view that a business license alone doesn't mean the applicant "can do business anywhere you want."

Attorney James Anthony, representing Naulls, said the ruling will allow Healing Nations to remain open not only for the 70 days granted to file the appeal, but also through the trial, which could take as long as 18 months.

"I feel that the judge bent over backwards to stay her own injunction," Anthony said. "She gave the city a token victory but really, she gave us a substantial victory."

Corona is one of several Inland cities that have banned medical marijuana dispensaries; others are Temecula, Norco and Lake Elsinore.

A state judge recently upheld California law allowing the use of cannabis for medical purposes by throwing out a lawsuit challenging the statute that voters passed in 1996. San Diego County filed the lawsuit, and San Bernardino and Merced counties joined the case.

Marijuana's use remains illegal under federal law.

City Fights Dispensary

Naulls opened his Grand Boulevard dispensary in May.

The city called for the closure of the collective and issued a 45-day moratorium in June that was extended until June 2007.

In August, Burgess denied a temporary restraining order that the city sought to stop the dispensary from operating, and she called for a hearing on a preliminary injunction.

A cluster of supporters for the collective, some in wheelchairs, attended the hearing in Department 6.

The court order followed about 45 minutes of discussion among the attorneys and Burgess.

In the city's case, Dunn argued that Naulls did not disclose on his license application that his intended business was a medical marijuana dispensary and that the collective should be shut down because it is not a permitted use under Corona's zoning and land-use codes.

Anthony and fellow attorney Richard D. Ackerman countered that Naulls had contacted a city planner regarding his plan to open a dispensary and, after consulting an attorney and learning the city did not yet have a ban or any regulations related to the businesses, exercised his right under state law to open one.

Permitted Use Is Issue

Burgess said Wednesday that she agreed with Corona that Naulls concealed from the city that his business was a medical marijuana dispensary, but the judge called the business license issue a "red herring."

The real issue in this case is use, she said.

The city argued that if a business is not a listed permitted use in the code, then it is not allowed and a Planning Commission hearing is required to make any exceptions.

Naulls' representatives argued the opposite: that because the city didn't have anything about medical marijuana dispensaries in its codes, it was allowed.

Burgess said because the issue of permitted use is unclear, she based her ruling on the declaration of former Corona planning director Peggy Temple, that the collective was a nonconforming use that was not permitted.

Reach Melanie C. Johnson at 951-893-2113 or mjohnson@PE.com



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