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Judge denies temporary restraining order to halt closure of 4 medical marijuana shops on June 7 [Update]

May 26, 2010 |  1:59 pm

Map: L.A. City dispensaries allowed to operate

Four medical marijuana dispensaries lost their bid Wednesday for a temporary court order to stop Los Angeles from shutting them down when its ordinance takes effect on June 7. The decision could discourage other dispensaries from seeking similar orders to block immediate enforcement.

If the dispensaries had won, city officials feared they could face scores of such orders, hampering their plans to close hundreds of dispensaries. "Based on the arguments we heard today, the floodgates have been closed," said Jane Usher, a special assistant city attorney.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David P. Yaffe denied the motions for restraining orders despite persistent entreaties from David Welch, the attorney for the dispensaries, who argued that the operators faced irreparable harm if the city imposed daily fines or arrested and jailed them.

"The temporary restraining order is denied, again, and for the last time," Yaffe said.

[Updated at 6:17 p.m.An earlier version of this posted spelled the judge's surname Yaffee.]

The dispensaries are among 44 that filed two lawsuits challenging the city's ordinance, which allows only dispensaries that registered by Nov. 13, 2007, to continue to operate. Three of the dispensaries opened in 2009 and one opened in 2007 but did not register.

City officials estimate that 137 dispensaries qualify to apply to stay in business, while about 450 will have to shut down under the medical marijuana ordinance. Usher declined to discuss how enforcement actions against dispensaries that fail to close would proceed, but implied it would take some time. "The first step will simply be to gauge compliance," she said.

Yaffe set a hearing on an injunction for June 18, angrily dismissing concerns from both sides that the issue should be decided before June 7.

The judge's ruling was a sharp reversal for the dispensaries that very nearly won a temporary restraining order from Judge James C. Chalfant earlier in the day. The judge appeared skeptical of the 2007 registration deadline, which the City Council had imposed as part of its moratorium on new dispensaries. In an earlier decision, Chalfant ruled that the moratorium was illegally extended.

Chalfant insisted that it would be wrong for the city to prosecute the dispensaries before their motion for an injunction could be heard in court and repeatedly said he intended to grant a temporary restraining order. "We can't have these people go to jail," he said.

Tayo Popoola, a deputy city attorney, argued against a temporary restraining order, saying it would give a "green light" to hundreds of dispensaries to seek similar rulings.

Chalfant, however, was unable to schedule a hearing on the injunction before June 7 and transferred the cases to Yaffe, who then declined to schedule one before that date.

-- John Hoeffel in Los Angeles County Superior Court