Tuesday, October 5, 2010

San Marcos City Attorney files for ‘Emergency’ Injunction on MMSC Dispensary

By: Eugene Davidovich
Judge delays decision on ‘emergency’ injunction as patients pack the room for a standing room only hearing, hoping to retain safe access to their medicine.

SAN MARCOS – In 2006 the San Marcos City Council took a preemptive strike at the State’s medical marijuana laws. Against the protests of patients, city residents and advocates, City Council adopted an ordinance prohibiting medical marijuana dispensaries in all zones within the city’s jurisdictional limits and specifically instructed the city’s business tax office not issue permits conditional or otherwise for such use.

Despite the unconstitutional ban adopted by the city council, MMSC a collaboration of medical marijuana patients in San Marcos came together to open a dispensing collective in a light industrial area of the city, an ideal location, sensitive to the typical community concerns associated medical marijuana dispensaries.

The collective cultivation effort, headed by Ronnie Chang arose as a result of demand from thousands of patients in San Marcos for safe and reliable access to medical cannabis. MMSC stepped up to meet that demand and provided a safe environment where patients could obtain their medicine, discuss cultivation techniques, and associate for the purposes of collectively growing marijuana.

The city quickly went after this association of patients, first by convincing the San Diego County Narcotics Task Force (NTF) to conduct a raid on the MMSC facility on September 9, 2009; the day that over a dozen other medical marijuana dispensaries were raided throughout San Diego County as part of DA Bonnie Dumanis’ fierce fight against medical marijuana patients known as Operation Green Rx.

MMSC withstood the assault and continued to provide safe access to patients in San Marcos. The reefer madness propagandists however, did not stop there.

Recently, the San Marcos City Attorney’s office filed suit against the collective, demanding that a San Diego Superior Court Judge grant the city an ‘emergency’ injunction forcing the collective to close.

On Thursday of this week, during a hearing in the matter, Judge Earl H. Maas delayed granting the ‘emergency’ injunction against MMSC. After hearing arguments from the City Attorney as well as Lance Rogers, the plaintiff’s attorney representing the patients, Judge Maas stated, “I will review all the briefs and cases the attorneys have asked me to look at and issue a decision at the end of next week.”

During the hearing Judge Maas seemed not to be buying the City’s claim that this was an ‘emergency’ situation. He asked the City Attorney to produce evidence of the ‘emergency’ and insisted that they cite specific proof that the facility itself caused a nuisance to the community.

At several points throughout the hearing Judge Maas asked about the city’s ban and appeared to see through the City Attorney’s attempt to qualify a ban as a regulation. Fourteen years after Proposition 215, still having an outright ban, ignoring the law, science, and the will of their community was an embarrassment for the City of San Marcos.

Aside from citing only anecdotal evidence from outside of San Diego County claiming that ‘dispensaries were bad’, the City Attorney failed to provide any proof that MMSC had done anything but help bring a positive benefit to the community of San Marcos.

The City Attorney was not able to produce evidence supporting their allegations nor could they provide any legitimate reason or explanation for having an outright ban.

Unlike San Marcos’ City Attorney, the patient-members of MMSC came to court that day armed with evidence, common sense, and the law.

Rogers on behalf of MMSC presented to the court numerous letters from surrounding businesses, all supporting the collective, and urging the court to allow MMSC to remain open in their neighborhood. Rogers explained to Judge Maas that aside from being a good neighbor, MMSC has gone out of their way to come into compliance with state law and local law.

Aside from formally organizing with the state, the collective not only applied for but actually received a business tax certificate (Business License) under the nursery category for “high end plants and flowers”, from the City of San Marcos.

The City Attorney argued that first, MMSC should have applied for a Business Tax Certificate specifically as a medical marijuana dispensary rather than a nursery, and only after being denied, should have filed suit challenging the City’s ban to be unconstitutional, not the other way around.

Although the purpose and intent of the collective was clearly stated in the application for the business license, according to the City Attorney MMSC’s business license was not valid. It seems that in San Marcos marijuana does not constitute a high end plant / flower.

During the hearing, it appeared the City Attorney was having difficulty making all these arguments while keeping a straight face. It was even more difficult for patients who rely on this medicine daily to see their own city government try to cut off access.

The hearing was held in a courtroom filled to the brim with over fifty MMSC patients and supporters, all well dressed and from different walks of life. Wheelchair and walker bound patients, doctors, lawyers, and advocates all came out to show their support and packed the courtroom.

At one point during the hearing after a few emotional reactions from supporters, Judge Maas addressed the crowd explaining to them that this was the first time he had ever allowed people to sit on the floor and to stand in the isles, during a hearing in his courtroom.

“I understand this issue is important to many in our community and I assure you that both sides will get a fair hearing in my courtroom”. Judge Maas said. “I will allow the supporters to remain however you must agree to stay silent throughout the rest of the proceedings”.

Not a single emotion was further heard from the crowd following the Judge’s request.

The City Attorney kept arguing for as long as Judge Maas allowed, claiming all dispensaries were illegal under state law, echoing Dumanis’ assertion that all members must roll up their sleeves and plow the fields together in order for it to be legal. The City Attorney also asserted that they had every right to ban any use of a property within their jurisdiction.

According to that claim, it would seem that the City of San Marcos is under some sort of dictatorial rule of the City Council.

Judge Maas left many issues unresolved at the hearing, including the constitutionality of the City’s ban on dispensaries as well as MMSC’s right to operate in San Marcos. He did however promise to issue a decision towards the end of next week regarding the ‘emergency’ injunction.

Several patients following the hearing were quoted as saying, “as a result of the Judge not making his decisions immediately and delaying for a week, for the time being, MMSC may very well be the only quote unquote ‘legal’ dispensary in San Diego County.”

The community is grateful to MMSC for challenging the City of San Marco’s unconstitutional ban on safe access and hopes that the many thousands of patients in the City of San Marcos will find clarity in the law and are able to retain safe access in their community through the courts.

Further Information:

San Marcos Ordinance Banning Dispensaries (Chapter 5.54):

ASA compliance letter sent to more than 140 localities:

Appellate court ruling in Qualified Patients Association v. City of Anaheim: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/Anaheim_Ruling.pdf

Status of California city ordinances regulating and banning dispensaries:

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