LA County DA Prepares To Crack Down on Pot Outlets
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LA County DA Prepares To Crack Down on Pot Outlets
Posted by CN Staff on October 09, 2009 at 06:02:52 PT
By John Hoeffel
Source: Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles, CA -- Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said Thursday he will prosecute medical marijuana dispensaries for over-the-counter sales, targeting a practice that has become commonplace under an initiative approved by California voters more than a decade ago."The vast, vast, vast majority, about 100%, of dispensaries in Los Angeles County and the city are operating illegally, they are dealing marijuana illegally, according to our theory," he said. "The time is right to deal with this problem."
Cooley and Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich recently concluded that state law bars sales of medical marijuana, an opinion that could spark a renewed effort by law enforcement across the state to rein in the use of marijuana. It comes as polls show a majority of state voters back legalization of marijuana, and supporters are working to place the issue on the ballot next year.The district attorney's office is investigating about a dozen dispensaries, following police raids, and is considering filing felony charges against one that straddles the Los Angeles-Culver City line. "We have our strategy and we think we are on good legal ground," Cooley said.Medical marijuana advocates say the prosecutors are misinterpreting the law."I'm confident that they are not right," said Joe Elford, chief counsel for Americans for Safe Access. "If they are right, it would mean that thousands of seriously ill Californians for whom the Compassionate Use Act was intended to help would not be able to get the medicine that they need." Law enforcement officials have been frustrated by the explosion in the number of dispensaries in Southern California, arguing that most are for-profit enterprises that violate the 1996 voter initiative legalizing medical marijuana and the 2003 state law permitting collective cultivation. Cooley's announcement, coming at a news conference that followed a training session he and Trutanich conducted for narcotics officers, dramatically raises the stakes. In the city of Los Angeles, some estimates put the number of dispensaries as high as 800. The city allowed 186 to remain open under its 2007 moratorium, but hundreds of others opened in violation of the ban while the city did nothing to shut them down. In August, Cooley and Sheriff Lee Baca sent a letter to all mayors and police chiefs in the county, saying that they believed over-the-counter sales were illegal and encouraging cities to adopt permanent bans on dispensaries. Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at UCLA and an expert on drug policy, was not surprised that local prosecutors had decided to attack the rapid proliferation of marijuana stores."I think it's a natural response to the rather flagrant marketing practices of a bunch of the dispensaries. The medical veneer has been wearing thinner and thinner," he said. "I've always wondered why those things were legal when they didn't look legal to me." Cooley said he believes that under state law, collectives must raise their own marijuana and can only recoup their costs. "That's absolutely legal," he said. "We're going to respect that."But he said none of them currently do that. The district attorney's warning could make the situation more chaotic in Los Angeles, where the City Council has struggled for two years to devise an ordinance to control the distribution of medical marijuana.In addition to prosecuting dispensaries, Cooley said he would consider going after doctors who write medical marijuana recommendations for healthy people. Medical marijuana critics argue that some doctors freely recommend the drug to people who are not ill.Medical marijuana advocates celebrated a brief thaw in the enforcement climate after the Obama administration signaled earlier this year that it would not prosecute collectives that followed state law. That spurred many entrepreneurs to open dispensaries in Los Angeles. As stores popped up near schools and parks, neighborhood activists reacted with outrage and police took notice. Councilman Dennis Zine, a key player on the issue at L.A. City Hall, welcomed Cooley's decision to prosecute dispensaries. "There are many that are operating illegally and it's not a secret," he said, adding that he believes "a few" collectives in the city are operating legally. Anticipating that police departments will ramp up raids on dispensaries, medical marijuana advocates reacted with dismay to Cooley's announcement."What we'll see is a big disruption," said Don Duncan, the California director for Americans for Safe Access. He called Cooley's decision "incredible" and said, "It certainly sounds scary." Duncan acknowledged that many dispensaries do not follow the law and urged Cooley and Trutanich to focus exclusively on them. "You don't have to cast a net over the entire community, you can target the problem people and not take this extreme adversarial position," he said. "Some good people are going to be caught in the crossfire." About 100 medical marijuana patients, activists and dispensary owners protested on a sidewalk outside the Montebello Country Club, where about 150 prosecutors and narcotics officers met. Motorists repeatedly honked and shook their fists in support as they rolled by, triggering cheers from the crowd. Barry Kramer, the operator of California Patients Alliance, a collective on Melrose Avenue, said many dispensaries have responsibly regulated themselves for years in the vacuum left by the City Council's inaction. "I feel like that gets lost," he said. "It's frustrating to get painted with one brush by the city." Kramer said he believed that dispensaries would continue to operate. "People have found ways around marijuana laws for as long as there have been marijuana laws," he said.But he also said that stepped-up prosecutions could resuscitate the criminal market: "Things will go underground. We'll see a lot more crime." When Californians voted for Proposition 215 in 1996, they made it legal for patients with a doctor's recommendation and their caregivers to possess and raise pot for the patient's medical use.In 2003, the Legislature allowed patients and caregivers "collectively or cooperatively to cultivate marijuana for medical purposes" but said they could not do it for profit.Cooley and Trutanich, after reviewing a state Supreme Court decision from last year, have concluded that the law protects collectives from prosecution only in the cultivation of marijuana, not for sales or distribution. Medical marijuana advocates, however, note that the state currently requires dispensaries to collect sales taxes on marijuana, and that guidelines drawn up by the attorney general conclude that "a properly organized and operated collective or cooperative that dispenses medical marijuana through a storefront may be lawful."The guidelines allow collectives to take costs into account but do not deal directly with over-the-counter sales.Jacob Appelsmith, special assistant attorney general, said Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown talked to Cooley on Thursday. "Our staffs are continuing to meet about these issues," he said. Note: Cooley says the vast majority of medical marijuana dispensaries in the county are operating illegally.Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)Author: John HoeffelPublished: October 9, 2009Copyright: 2009 Los Angeles TimesContact: letters latimes.comWebsite: Medical Marijuana Archives
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Comment #19 posted by FoM on October 10, 2009 at 19:27:08 PT
I agree with you. It needs to be fixed.
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Comment #18 posted by EAH on October 10, 2009 at 18:15:54 PT:
Bottom line
The bottom line is that the DA unfortunately is on pretty solid ground when it comes to CA law, as written on the books and as interpreted by CA judges. It is because 215 is far too vague, and 420 does not address outright sales. Without express written statutory consent makes sales legal in plain english, they aren't.
The only reason dispensaries have gotten as far as they have and lasted as long as they have is because of local politics. That has kept the ones in "friendly" localities from being prosecuted. Once you are dragged into court, if you are charged with sales, NO JUDGE IN CA WILL RULE THAT A MEDICAL DEFENSE IS PERMISSIBLE. The reason for that is as I said, nowhere in the law are sales made OK. Legally what exists in CA is a mess and it needs to be fixed.As for cops and DAs, they don't care about pot. Really they don't, even if they swear they do. THEY CARE ABOUT MONEY. They really really care a lot about money. They don't want anyone to make money on pot and if you do they want to TAKE IT AWAY. PERIOD. Trust me, I know. 
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Comment #17 posted by FoM on October 10, 2009 at 15:40:12 PT
Related Article From Raw Story
Los Angeles DA: ‘About 100%’ of Medical Marijuana Dispensaries are IllegalBy Stephen C. WebsterSaturday, October 10th, 2009URL:
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Comment #16 posted by schmeff on October 10, 2009 at 15:27:15 PT
"...they are dealing marijuana illegally, according to our theory."What's a "theory", really? A guess? A hunch? Something you really, really wish were true, so you pull it out of your butt and hope it flies? Cooley's theory seems to me a bald-faced attempt to thwart the will of the people.Here's a theory: an elected official bent on ignoring the will of the people might soon find themselves out of a job.Theoretically, Mr. Cooley might be better suited to flipping burgers or picking up trash; two careers where things are simpler, and his black and white world outlook won't be challenged by shades of gray.
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Comment #15 posted by GeoChemist on October 10, 2009 at 04:40:05 PT
Two words.......
Jury nullification.
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Comment #14 posted by John Tyler on October 09, 2009 at 19:49:10 PT
cops have been frustrated
We have our strategy and we think we are on good legal ground," Cooley said. What is this? He is the D.A. He is going to start a big legal mess and all he can say is that he thinks he is on good legal ground. He should get some better legal advise than that. Here is the crux of the whole thing, Cooley, the cops, and all of the assorted prohibitionists are frustrated at the blossoming of a medical cannabis industry and they don’t like it one bit. When you become frustrated and angry you are likely to do things that are rash and impulsive and usually wrong. Here is what I think will happen. They will do the raids and make a really big mess. The dispensaries will file numerous lawsuits against the county and the cops. The county, etc. will lose and will have to pay millions of dollars in damages and legal costs and the dispensaries will reopen.  
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Comment #13 posted by EAH on October 09, 2009 at 11:08:59 PT:
I'm surprised this didn't happen sooner
Had the number of dispensaries stayed low, they might not have seen it worth the effort. It didn't so they're on the warpath.As a member of a collective and a former supplier, I can tell you all about this.
I was prosecuted and the judge refused to allow a defense in which a transaction (sale, according to all existing definitions) took place for mmj between me and the collective dispensary. In the judges view, 215 and sb420 did not explicitly allow that in plain clear language. Thus there was nothing
to contravene the language of the Health and Safety code with regard to sales.
Compensation allowed for a caregiver doesn't cover it because it is very difficult to meet the standard of "caregiver". In DA offices all over CA this topic has been discussed and I think a DA in Riverside or San Bernardino county has circulated a document to DAs around the state to that dispensary sales are not legal. It has been an aggressive campaign and apparently the LA county DA has been listening.
Unfortunately in the view of the courts (no superior court judge in CA is willing to be the first to rule that "sales" are lawful) what's on the books 
regarding mmj does not clearly allow sales. The existence of dispensaries 
has basically been because local authorities haven't chosen to bring every 
dispensary in their jurisdiction to court. If they did, and charged them with unlawful sales, AFAIW no judge in CA would rule to allow a mmj defense of sales. The AG's guidelines are not very helpful either.That is the reason we need to pass this: other one is too weak and won't fix the problems
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Comment #12 posted by runruff on October 09, 2009 at 09:48:16 PT
Rip John!
Happy Birthday Johnny Moondog!
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Comment #11 posted by Graehstone on October 09, 2009 at 09:13:50 PT
Think this could be ...
... one last big hurrah from them before they are hamstrung by full legalization next year? Seems to me that the closer we get to "winning" this war, the more mean-spirited and "loud" the other side gets.
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Comment #10 posted by Zandor on October 09, 2009 at 09:09:43 PT:
Steve Cooley is a LIAR!!! Typical politics for LA!
What about the Kha ruling?California case, City of Garden Grove v. Superior Court (Kha), which also involved preemption. In that case, both lower courts similarly found that state law was not preempted by federal law and that "it is not the job of the local police to enforce the federal drug laws."What about the 4th appellate district ruling? They said in a published ruling storefront dispensaries that qualify as cooperatives or collectives under the CUA & MMPA are in FACT legal!! Published 8-18-2009 (people v. Hochanadel)I guess the LA DA office did not get that memo or like typical politics they did not care and thus ignored the ruling like normal.This is just political grand standing setting up a run for the Governors office or another public office.The LA DA has NO HONOR and NO RESPECT for the people. Focus your efforts at stopping the gang problem...the murder rate and crooked bankers. Leave Medical Marijuana people ALONE!!!!We are following state law and you should too!!!!
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Comment #9 posted by Hope on October 09, 2009 at 08:39:58 PT
Congress, The States... even the cities...
I think, are where the changes will show up. It's the people, of course, clamoring for change that are the impetus.The Supreme Court has, historically, in my opinion, always been a hiding place for unjust laws to fester and grow unimpeded by any "Just" decisions of the "Justices".
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Comment #8 posted by FoM on October 09, 2009 at 08:24:52 PT
Thank you for your input. All I want is too see cannabis legal and for the price to drop so people can afford to buy a little to help them feel better. That's what is most important to me. 
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Comment #7 posted by rchandar on October 09, 2009 at 07:35:56 PT:
Why Congress
FoM, I'm not a true activist, who works in the field, in the public sphere. This is why, I pick Congress to lead the change:The Supreme Court has heard cases on the subject of whether the Feds have the right to bust MMJ patients and "dispensaries." In the past, affirming the Federal right was all that was necessary: it's a slam-dunk, it's illegal under Federal law.Whereas: Congress would be the forum for detailing and (unfortunately) enforcing a policy to allow legal prescription and sale of marijuana. That's considerably more open and negotiable. We may not be satisfied with the result, but the door would open, whereas in the Supreme Court it's either completely open or completely closed.Plus, Sotomayor's confirmation doesn't change the dynamic of the Court much: it's 5-4 in our favor, no change. Lining up nine judges to decide something like this is not very "democratic", it supposes that a tiny oligarchy is an effective arbiter of social justice. No, I would take such a bill to Congress.--rchandar--rchandar
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Comment #6 posted by rchandar on October 09, 2009 at 07:30:28 PT:
I don't know if that'll happen or when. I honestly can't say because the Supreme Court defers to Congress, while Congress defers to the Supreme Court. The best bet for this to happen is probably Congress, though it may not be a contending bill with real possibility of passing until after the 2010 elections. Democrats are afraid of losing their seats; perhaps if they were to retain control of both Houses they would come back more confident and willing to seriously consider policy changes. I remember 1994, it was a dreadful moment in our history. We brought back fundamentalism and conservatism in a big way that time. It's important to keep track of these things because a Republican-held Congress effectively negates the Presidency, and could harbor a lot of dangerous kinds of subversions that would never have happened under Clinton, simply because Bill was white. You've got to admire the guy--he's blitzed every day with cartoons, speeches, and threats that could only be described as pure racism, yet he denies that that's what it is. I praise Obama for his herculean effort, and hope that he will gain his bearings and confront that monster successfully.We need a White Guy. Badly. (???)--rchandar
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Comment #5 posted by FoM on October 09, 2009 at 07:08:00 PT
My 2 Cents
If we direct our energy to changing the Federal Law then dispensaries will be allowed. When the price drops to a reasonable amount it would help also. 
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Comment #4 posted by rchandar on October 09, 2009 at 06:51:35 PT:
I Wish This Guy Had a Brain (part 2)
the problem is endemic in our culture, and that's unfortunate. What we're seeing here is a glamorized version of cop ethics--dangerous, libelous crimes are being committed in the name of the good, and only cops can rectify the issue. Please folks, the amount of hubris and vanity that goes into this kind of idea--round 'em up! I'm gonna bust 'em all!--is pretty massive. But a lot of it is our fault--we watch the shows on TV and passively expect the police to sanitize our very dangerous society. We've been like that for decades, and LA is a classic example of the theory. Any opposition to this move? Then we'd better get the facts out, and they should be comprehensive. We would have to write a document of several hundred pages detailing why this system can work, why it isn't criminal, and how Cooley's move effectively gutters an embryonic moment of social policy change. The question is, how quickly can our people produce such research? Will it be in time, for LA to ever have a chance?Because I guarantee, when they start shutting these places down, it's going to aggravate the already tremendous crime paranoia and crime self-righteousness of our "good" citizens. I hope we can tackle this before the end of the year.-rchandar
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Comment #3 posted by rchandar on October 09, 2009 at 06:46:00 PT:
I Wish This Guy Had a Brain
...what gives? You can't expect patients to "grow their own," that's a fantasy!!! No, they are going to have to identify dispensaries that meet requirements and f #k off and leave them alone. Otherwise, 215 does not exist in LA, and it's a mockery of the very idea....for those of you that don't know, a plant takes 3 months to grow. So, thanks to the beneficience of Mr. Cooley, you've got to stay sick for 3 months just because he thinks he understands the law. What will get "ramped up" are busts of patients--you can expect dozens of court cases because of this move.--rchandar
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Comment #2 posted by FoM on October 09, 2009 at 06:38:16 PT
Crackdown Looming for Pot Dispensaries
October 8, 2009Within a few weeks, Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley will begin more aggressive prosecution of medical marijuana dispensaries throughout the county, arguing most of them are illegally operating for a profit, he said Thursday. Cooley's office estimates there are some 900 dispensaries operating in Los Angeles County — concentrated in the city, and particularly in the San Fernando Valley. "Any medical marijuana dispensary that is selling over the counter for a profit is allegedly violating the law as written," said Sandi Gibbons, spokeswoman for the District Attorney's Office. "And it's our job to enforce the law as written. URL:
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Comment #1 posted by FoM on October 09, 2009 at 06:11:45 PT
No Surprise To Me
I've always wondered when this would happen.
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