Lawsuit filed seeking to lift pot club bans

October 06, 2005

Gary Scott, San Gabriel Valley Tribune

A medical marijuana advocacy group filed suit Thursday to overturn permanent bans on cannabis dispensaries locating in Pasadena and two Northern California cities.

The Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access claims the bans illegally restrict the rights given to patients and caregivers under the Compassionate Use Act, also known as Proposition 215.

"We hope this litigation will help local officials realize that permanent bans are unacceptable -- not just legally, but morally," said Kris Hermes, ASA Legal Campaign Director, in a prepared statement.

The other two cities being sued are Concord and Susanville. A similar suit was filed in April against Fresno.

ASA spokeswoman Hilary McQuie said her group would be "more than interested in dropping the lawsuit" when and if the cities agree to drop the bans.

In Pasadena at least, that appears unlikely.

"If they can sort out that the state initiative has precedence over federal law, then I guess we'd be happy to amend our regulations," said Pasadena Councilman Paul Little. "But at this point, I think we are prudent in following the rules and regulations the federal government set down on this."

The Pasadena City Council adopted the ban in July, shortly after a U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in Raich v. Gonzales, that Proposition 215 does not protect medical marijuana providers or users from federal prosecution.

California voters passed the medical marijuana initiative in 1996. That same year, Patricia Schwartz obtained a prescription from a Pasadena physician to use the drug to treat pain associated with fibromyalgia and a bladder condition called interstitial cystitis.

Schwartz, 49, is one of two plaintiffs in the Pasadena suit. A Caltech graduate and Pasadena resident, Schwartz said the city's ban ensures she will have to continue driving to West Hollywood two to four times a month to get her prescription filled.

The voters elected to grant access to medical marijuana, Schwartz said. She was "blown away," she said, when Pasadena officials decided to implement the ban.

The second plaintiff in the case is Philip Lujan, president of the Southern California chapter of the National Organization for the Normalization of Marijuana Laws. The Los Angeles resident is listed as a "prospective dispensary operator" because he was planning to open an outlet in Pasadena.

Lujan said he uses medical marijuana to treat a long-term gastrointestinal condition.

While three city halls Thursday were being served with copies of the lawsuits, ASA activists protested outside the annual conference of the League of California Cities at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. They also set up an information table inside the center and spoke before one of the local government committees.

ASA spokeswoman Hillary McQuie said the coordinated effort is designed to counter what she says has been "wrong information" spread about dispensaries at past conferences.

"If what they are sharing is wrong information, then we spend the next year putting out fires," McQuie said. "Our goal is to pre-empt illegal bans at the same time we educate officials about better ways to go about" regulating dispensaries.

Thirteen cities in California have adopted permanent bans, mostly in the last year or two, McQuie said. Another 56 cities and counties chose to implement temporary bans, including Ontario and Los Angeles County.

Two events helped precipitate the rush to ban dispensaries. The Supreme Court ruling, handed down in June, was the first. The second involved a memo from the police chief of Rocklin, a city outside Sacramento, that purported to show that dispensaries in several Bay Area cities attracted a criminal element and created severe nuisances for surrounding businesses.

-- Gary Scott can be reached at (626) 578-6300, Ext. 4458, or by e-mail at gary.scott@sgvn.com.



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