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Judge bars Venice dispensary from selling medical marijuana

April 13, 2010 |  2:05 pm

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge issued a preliminary injunction Tuesday that bars the popular Venice dispensary Organica from selling or distributing marijuana at its store on Washington Boulevard.

The ruling is the second that Judge James C. Chalfant has issued against a Los Angeles dispensary based on his conclusion that neither the medical marijuana initiative nor the law adopted to clarify the measure allow the drug to be sold.

Chalfant's decisions are preliminary orders and both cases are slated to go to trial, but his rulings against Hemp Factory V and Organica could force the courts to directly address the contentious issue for the first time. Most, if not all collectives, sell marijuana to their members.

Asha Greenberg, an assistant Los Angeles city attorney, said Chalfant's decision should make it clear to the city's dispensaries that selling marijuana is a violation of state law.

In a hearing, Chalfant strongly reiterated his view that the state's laws were intended to allow medical marijuana patients and their caregivers to form collectives to grow pot together and share the harvest, but not to sell it like a retail store. "Maybe I am too old, but those of us who grew up in the 1960s know what a collective is," he said.

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley and Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich have pressed that view. Dispensary operators and their advocates, including Americans for Safe Access, the nation's main advocacy group for medical marijuana, have insisted that the two prosecutors are misinterpreting the law and recent court decisions. Trutanich has sued four dispensaries: Hemp Factory V in Eagle Rock, Organica and two Holistic Caregivers stores in South Los Angeles.

David Welch, the lawyer for Organica and its operator, Jeff Joseph, argued that cash contributions for marijuana are just one way that collective members contribute to cultivation. After the hearing, Welch dismissed Chalfant's conclusion as his opinion. "I think we will take this through the process, that in the end, we will be successful," he said.

Joseph said Organica was not currently operating and would not speculate on the collective's future. He and his lawyer argued that its members cultivated marijuana on site and in Topanga and Malibu. "He has no idea of how we were operating," Joseph said, referring to the judge. "We weren't getting any from outside sources."

The dispensary, which registered with the city in 2007, was targeted by federal and local narcotics agents and raided three times. Analyzing records seized from the dispensary, law enforcement officials said it had $5.3 million in sales over a 13-month period.

-- John Hoeffel in Los Angeles County Superior Court