Sonoma Pot Store Furor Grows

March 31, 2004

Lori A. Carter, The Press Democrat

Sonoma planners have determined that medical marijuana shops will be allowed in town, but proprietors of a proposed club must find a new location after their landlord decided not to rent to them.

The Sonoma Cannabis Buyers Cooperative was originally planned to open today on Broadway a few blocks south of the historic Plaza, said proprietors Aaron Mitchell and his mother, Karen Van Kayne.

But the deal fell through after landlord Jack Powers said he decided he didn't want to take on the potential legal liabilities of allowing his building to be used for such a controversial service.

Mitchell and Van Kayne both accused Sonoma Police Chief John Gurney of pressuring Powers to back out of their signed lease agreement -- a charge Gurney vehemently denied.

After meeting with Van Kayne, Mitchell, the city prosecutor and police, City Planner David Goodison determined a marijuana co-op is a medical service that would be allowed in certain commercial areas, subject to city-imposed conditions.

But shortly thereafter, Powers asked Gurney for information about current laws regarding marijuana. Powers said he decided that he did not want to expose himself to potential legal problems because federal law -- unlike state law -- does not recognize the medical use of marijuana.

'I'm not going against any laws,' Powers said.

Van Kayne and Mitchell both accused Gurney of 'harassing and threatening' Powers into backing out of the agreement.

'They are absolutely lying,' Gurney said.

'The landlord wasn't happy once this thing got media attention,' he said. 'He called here wanting to know what he could do. We told him they had the right to be there and that if he made the decision to lease to them it was his problem. He found a loophole.'

Van Kayne said losing this property was simply a minor glitch. She and her son are searching for another location for Sonoma's first official medical marijuana dispensary.

In 2000 and 2001, the Sonoma County Hemp Bank operated on Napa Street, dispensing the drug to more than 150 patients, unbeknownst to city officials. It closed after a related club in Oakland was raided by federal authorities.

Mitchell described himself as a businessman who runs a company called Mitchell Bros. 21st Century Film Group. His father, Artie, a self-proclaimed 'king of porn,' was shot to death by his brother Jim in 1991 during an argument. The pair, operating as the Mitchell Bros., were pioneers in the live and film porn business in San Francisco.

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