Preliminary injunction bars Venice-area dispensary from selling medical marijuana

April 13, 2010

John Hoeffel, Los Angeles Times

In a second ruling against a medical marijuana dispensary, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge issued a preliminary injunction Tuesday that bars a popular Venice-area outlet from selling or distributing the drug at its sprawling store on Washington Boulevard. The decision by Judge James C. Chalfant could embolden city prosecutors to seek more court orders to close dispensaries as they try to find the most efficient way to reduce the number in Los Angeles. As he did in a previous case, Chalfant concluded that the state's medical marijuana laws do not allow collectives to sell cannabis.

Chalfant's decisions are preliminary orders and both cases are slated to go to trial. But his rulings against Hemp Factory V in Eagle Rock and Organica, which straddles the Los Angeles-Culver City line, could eventually force the courts to settle the issue, which has become increasingly contentious as prosecutors in Southern California step up efforts to halt such sales.

Most, if not all, collectives sell marijuana to their members for set prices.

In the hearing, Chalfant strongly reiterated his view that the state's laws were intended to allow medical marijuana patients and caregivers to form collectives to grow pot together and share the harvest, but not to sell it like a product in a retail store. "Maybe I am too old, but those of us who grew up in the 1960s know what a collective is," he said.

Asha Greenberg, the assistant Los Angeles city attorney who is handling the case, said Chalfant's decision should make it clear to the city's dispensaries that selling marijuana is illegal.

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley and Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich have pressed that view. Dispensary operators and their advocates, including Americans for Safe Access, the nation's main advocacy group for medical marijuana, have insisted that the two prosecutors are misinterpreting the law and recent court decisions.

Trutanich has sued four dispensaries: Hemp Factory V, Organica and two Holistic Caregivers stores in South Los Angeles.

David Welch, the lawyer for Organica and its operator, Jeff Joseph, argued that cash contributions for marijuana are just one way that collective members contribute. Both said that members cultivated marijuana on site and in Topanga and Malibu. The judge "has no idea of how we were operating," Joseph said. "We weren't getting any from outside sources."

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