D.A. targeting 'over-the-counter' pot sales

October 07, 2009

Ben Baeder and Thomas Himes, Staff Writers, San Gabriel Valley Tribune

Los Angeles County's top prosecutor seemed to tilt the balance against providers of medical marijuana Thursday when he said he would prosecute for-profit dispensaries.

District Attorney Steve Cooley was one of dozens of guests at a conference in Montebello at which the topic was the "eradication of medical-marijuana dispensaries in the city of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County," according to a flier advertising the event hosted by the California Narcotics Officers' Association.

After the meeting, Cooley said he would prosecute any for-profit dispensaries.

"It is our job to ensure that the law is followed as written and approved by California voters," he said in a statement to the press. "Current and future enforcement and prosecution actions are directed at illegal over-the-counter sales for profit operations."

District attorney's spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said too many dispensaries were claiming that they were "caregivers," which would allow them to provide marijuana to anyone with a doctor's note. The caregiver is supposed to be a family member who provides for a disabled relative, not someone in a shop, she said.

"They're selling marijuana basically over the counter, and that's illegal," she said of the about 900 dispensaries in Los Angeles County, most of which are in Los Angeles.

Nonprofit cooperatives of medical-marijuana patients would not be prosecuted, she said.

A spokesman for a major medical-marijuana advocacy group wasn't sure what to make of the statement.

Attorney General Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr. has set guidelines prohibiting for-profit dispensaries, said Kris Hermes, a spokesman for Americans for Safe Access.

Very few dispensaries operate in a for-profit manner, but they are often raided anyway, advocates said.

Hermes said police often use military-style raids on dispensaries rather than using civil measures common to investigations of most businesses.

"They would fine them or subpoena their records," he said. "I would argue that law enforcement doesn't really know if a dispensary (is for-profit) until they look at the paperwork. These raids are completely unjustified."

California voters in 1996 approved Proposition 215, which legalized possession and cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes.

About 75 people protested the meeting, which was held in the Quiet Cannon restaurant.

"The voters of California have made it clear, Los Angeles City Council has made it clear, we don't want them eradicating medical marijuana. We want them implementing it," said Don Duncan, who helped organize the protest.

"I'm a primary caregiver for an AIDS patient," Duncan said. "Doctors have nothing to stem his pain or help him hold down food."

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