Cops put brakes on marijuana-mobile

April 25, 2010

Leslie Parrilla, Press-Enterprise

 The first thing people see when they step into a converted 1985 Pace Arrow motorhome in Norco is a glass display case filled with chocolate-covered cannabis cookies and medical marijuana labeled "blueberry" and "cheese."The collective has been on the road for seven months, but this month its operators were cited by Norco and Corona police for possessing drug paraphernalia and operating a dispensary, said Stewart Hauptman and his wife, Helen Cherry, who run the collective.

The couple plans to contest the citations and challenge zoning laws in the two cities that ban dispensaries.

The motorhome collective is parked at the center of a legal debate over whether municipalities have the authority to ban collectives despite a state law that permits them. Medical marijuana became legal for medicinal use in 1996, and municipalities are permitted to regulate them. But legal experts disagree over whether cities can ban them.

Legal experts are watching a state appeals case filed against Anaheim by the Qualified Patients Association. The association argues that the city cannot ban a collective because it conflicts with state law, said Kris Hermes, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, a patient-advocacy group in Oakland.

Cherry said her August 2008 experience filling a medical marijuana recommendation for chronic back pain in Los Angeles led her and Hauptman to open the nonprofit Lakeview Collective.

The clinic she went to was less than appealing, she said.

"The paint was coming off the walls and (there were) bars on the windows and no medical equipment to be found. I was like, what the heck is this? This doesn't look legitimate," said Cherry, 60.

Six weeks later, she teamed up with two physicians to open Serenity Medical Evaluations in Norco, where recommendations are written.

Patients then join the Lakeview Collective to purchase the medical marijuana. The collective has about 700 members from the Inland area and as far away as Las Vegas, Cherry said.

"We really want to take care of patients. We're not looking for the 18-year-old stoners," Cherry said. "We have people coming in wheelchairs, in walkers."

William Sump, who runs a Riverside collective called the Inland Empire Health and Wellness Center Medical Marijuana Collective, said he knows of at least four similar mobile medical marijuana collectives.

Riverside County sheriff's Lt. Ross Cooper, who runs the Norco station, said the collective is a sales operation, not a nonprofit organization, so it doesn't meet state guidelines and violates Norco's municipal code.

Norco City Attorney John Harper said the city is seeking a temporary restraining order against what he said is a dispensary.

"We don't perceive what they do as a collective," Harper said. "They sell marijuana out of a van."

Attorney Lawrence Bynum, who represents the collective, said it is legal. 

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