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Medical marijuana advocates tell L.A. city prosecutor to drop lawsuits [Updated]

February 23, 2010 | 12:20 pm


The nation’s main advocacy group for medical marijuana is threatening to fight legal efforts by Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich to force three dispensaries to stop selling the drug.

The city prosecutor’s office filed the lawsuits last week to seek court injunctions to force Organica in the Venice area and two Holistic Caregivers stores in South Los Angeles to stop all over-the-counter sales. Trutanich maintains that state law authorizes collectives only to grow marijuana and recover their costs, not sell it, a practice that is widespread.

Americans for Safe Access, an organization that supports medical marijuana and frequently has assisted dispensaries in their legal battles, has tried repeatedly to persuade the city prosecutor that he is misreading the law and recent court decisions, but he has not budged.

On Tuesday, the organization’s chief counsel, Joe Elford, wrote to Trutanich and Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, who shares Trutanich’s view, saying the advocacy group would join the lawsuits on the side of the dispensaries unless they were withdrawn. He accused the two prosecutors of taking preemptive action before dispensaries had time to comply with the city’s ordinance.

“The Los Angeles city attorney and district attorney's contempt for the City Council and its recently adopted ordinance is unacceptable and must be stopped,” Elford said in a statement. “The city attorney's legal arguments are horribly flawed and have no basis in law.”

The city attorney's office had no immediate comment.

[Updated 1:18 p.m.: Chief Deputy City Atty. William W. Carter said he had not seen the group’s letter. “I’ve read their press release, and I am not impressed,” he said. “We obviously don’t agree with their position. We are enforcing the existing local and state laws just as we’ve been doing for a long time.”

Carter said his office will not withdraw the lawsuits, noting that it has already won a court injunction barring a dispensary from selling marijuana in a similar case and is confident in its legal position. “We don’t respond to threats,” he said.]

The City Council has passed an ordinance, but it skirted the contentious issue of whether sales were legal, saying only that dispensaries must comply with state law. The ordinance will not take effect until the council adopts fees the dispensaries must pay to operate.

-- John Hoeffel

Photo: LAPD officers Reyes, Lt, and Chavez at the gate of marijuana dispensary Organica Collective, February 18, 2010. Federal agents and L.A. police officers raided a Culver City medical marijuana dispensary, Thursday. Witnesses reported seeing several officers and cars congregating about 10 a.m. around Organica Collective at 13456 Washington Blvd., said officials with the Drug Enforcement Administration. DEA spokeswoman Sarah Pullen confirmed the agency was serving warrants at the collective, which has been raided in the past. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha/Los Angeles Times