Pot-mobile parked, for now

June 13, 2010

Leslie Parrilla, Press Enterprise

 The medical marijuana mobile that recently rolled out of Norco and into unincorporated Riverside County to sell its wares illustrates the latest in legal entanglements between federal, state and local laws. Stewart Hauptman said he and his 1985 Pace Arrow motor home are gone for good from Norco after police cited him for possessing drug paraphernalia and operating a dispensary. He has since moved to unincorporated Riverside County, where he says he feels safer because state law applies.

But Hauptman and his roving pot-mobile may not be driving on any more solid legal ground.

They are parked at the center of a conundrum created by conflicting federal, state and municipal laws that leave mobile collectives and a growing number of pot delivery operations that work like couriers in unfamiliar territory.

Federal drug laws prohibit the use and possession of marijuana.

State laws allow marijuana for medicinal use, sale that is not for profit and cultivation under legal limits. It also permits municipalities to regulate dispensaries.

But cities and counties across the state, including Norco and Riverside County, have local ordinances that ban dispensaries, according to city and county officials. San Bernardino County has a moratorium on them.

Legal experts are still arguing whether cities can ban dispensaries entirely through zoning laws that have kept many store-front businesses shuttered.

Mobile and delivery collectives are driving on uncharted roads, according to some experts.

Hundreds of delivery services across the state are up and running, dropping off marijuana to homebound people and a variety of locations. At least a handful of mobile units like Hauptman's are parking and opening shop.

Dale Gieringer, director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in California, said it's difficult to argue that city zoning laws apply to mobile dispensaries or delivery services.

"They don't have a set address. It's hard to say they're violating zoning ordinances because it's mobile," Gieringer said.

Kris Hermes, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access said delivery and mobile dispensaries are legal as long as they abide by state laws.

"I would say that it's first of all, at its foundation, it naturally provides a service to patients with mobility issues. So it stands to reason that delivery services, as long as they operate according to state law, legally can," Hermes said.

Hermes said mobile dispensaries and delivery services are easier to operate and likely will continue climbing in areas less friendly to storefront sales.

"In communities hostile to medical marijuana, delivery services have formed because they're more discreet and they draw less attention. In a storefront facility, that is obvious to law enforcement," Hermes said, noting increases in delivery services in San Francisco, Orange County and San Diego County.

Opponents say delivery services violate state law and are attempting to circumvent local regulations that ban dispensaries.

Norco City Attorney John Harper said whether a dispensary is mobile or stationary does not make it exempt from the city ban.

"The city doesn't allow the use of medical marijuana dispensaries under any circumstances," Harper said. "It's a defined term, dispensary. It essentially talks about any entity, whatever you like to call it, which dispenses marijuana."

Riverside County district attorney's office spokesman John Hall echoed Harper's comment.

But state laws that specifically apply to mobile and delivery services are not yet on the books.

The number of mobile and delivery business operating in the Inland area is unknown but online advertisements for them are on the rise.

And businesses could increase if voters approve an initiative on the November ballot to legalize pot possession.

For people like Hauptman, who operated in Norco for seven months and has faced no resistance since moving his motor home to Riverside County, he believes he is operating legally under state law.

He had planned to fight Norco and Corona zoning laws but said it proved too costly. So he agreed to leave this month after Norco officials attempted to file a temporary restraining order against him and the nonprofit Lakeview Collective that he and his wife operated there

"I would have had to mortgage my home to fight them," Hauptman said.

Beyond the legal conflicts, Hauptman said the issues are violating his right to help people in pain.

"This is so wrong. I got patients that have cancer," Hauptman said. "People need to hear about it."

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