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City of Richmond Begins Suing Its Dispensaries Out of Existence

Meanwhile, critics say the city should devote its resources toward other crimes. Plus, Sarah Palin calls pot a "minimal problem."

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The wheels of justice have begun grinding up the City of Richmond's budding medical cannabis dispensaries this week in what's become a de facto ban on pot clubs in one of the most liberal towns in the Bay Area.

Vaguely worded state law allows medical cannabis patients and caregivers to set up collectives and cooperatives that are protected from local law enforcement, but each city in California has taken a different approach to interpreting Proposition 215 and Assembly Bill 420. A spectrum of enforcement now exists in the state, from Oakland's "tax and regulate" approach — which has netted millions of tax dollars each year — to outright bans in places like the Southern California city of Anaheim, which is spending millions defending its ordinance in court.

Richmond city prosecutor Trisha Aljoe said she's in the process of getting injunctions, then suing the city's eight dispensaries out of existence, arguing that they violate local land-use regulations. Since Richmond lacks land-use permits for cannabis dispensaries, none can legitimately be open, she says. "These places were applying for city business licenses as garden supply stores and flower shops," she said. "It was fraud from the word 'go.'

"Case law is crystal clear," Aljoe added. "You don't get to lie in business applications and you don't get to violate zoning law."

Richmond dispensary operator John Clay opened his Pacific Alternative Health Center on Thanksgiving in 2009, the seventh such dispensary in the area. "Richmond has no ordinance against it, so many people including me thought, 'If something wasn't illegal, then it must be legal,'" he said. "When we went to city planning, we found out there was no category in zoning laws to cover dispensaries. So I was honest and I told the guy at the planning department counter what I wanted to open. He said he wouldn't process the application. I said, 'Why? There's no ordinance against it.' He said, yeah, but he couldn't do it and the city council had an informal ban. My application for it caused the blowup."

The city deployed an undercover narcotics officer with a fake injury, a doctor's recommendation, and a fake driver's license to gain membership to the Pacific Alternative Health Center. The officer asked to buy the biggest amount possible, which was a half a pound for $3,000. Clay has since been served with a civil lawsuit, and an injunction against his dispensary goes before a judge on July 6.

Aljoe says that the narcotics sting proves that, land-use aside, local dispensaries do not meet standards set by Prop 215 and AB 420. "Our undercover cop doesn't know these guys. He goes in, pays money, and walks out the door," Aljoe said. "They're not even in compliance for California's Compassionate Use Act, where you have to be primary caregiver and be responsible for health, housing, or some living arrangements."

When the injunction is granted, the city can begin fining Clay for each day his doors remain open, according to Aljoe. It's a strategy that's being replicated one at a time for every club in town. Owners of the Green Mind Collective have also been served, they say. The dispensary's owners say they lack the funds to fight the city.

Some critics say Richmond should have bigger priorities than closing pot clubs in a town racked by violence — most recently, the nationally covered incident of a gang rape of a local high schooler while local citizens watched.

"How are we wasting our time?" Aljoe asked. "We are prosecuting everything else just as aggressively."

Aljoe also notes that medical cannabis dispensing has led to two recent robberies as well as the robbery of a rather moronic San Francisco pot deliveryman.

Seeds & Stems

With just 49 percent of Californians for and 41 percent against taxing and regulating cannabis like alcohol, the November ballot initiative to do so needs all the help it can get. On Thursday, it got some more when the Communications Workers of America Local 9415 endorsed Tax Cannabis 2010. "The labor movement is coming together behind this initiative," said Sally Venable, president of CWA, Local 9415. "With California's state budget in disarray, and people out of work, it's time to harness this incredible revenue stream and create tens of thousands of high quality, union jobs, by controlling and taxing cannabis in California." The union cites a study by the California chapter of NORML showing that a controlled and taxed cannabis market could create between 60,000 and 110,000 new jobs, and $2.5 to $3.5 billion in new wages for workers each year. ... Sarah Palin told the Fox Business Network that marijuana is a "minimal problem": "I think we need to prioritize our law enforcement efforts," Palin said. "If somebody's gonna smoke a joint in their house and not do anybody any harm, then perhaps there are other things our cops should be looking at to engage in and try to clean up some of the other problems we have in society." ... The City of San Jose readies new laws for its burgeoning dispensary sector. Ten collectives would be picked by a lotto system run by the chief of police. Registration fees could total $95,016, with $100,000 fines recommended for unregistered clubs. No hash allowed. Local protests continued Tuesday, June 22, leading up to the city council meeting on the topic. ... An indica strain known as "Cali Gold" and a sativa strain known as "God's Pussy" won first place Sunday in the High Times San Francisco Medical Cannabis Cup.

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