Seven medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles are the target of a first round of prosecutions under voter-approved Proposition D.
The criminal misdemeanor filings target individuals believed to be owners, operators, and property landlords of dispensaries allegedly operating outside Prop D's parameters. The individuals have been sent notice to appear letters by the Los Angeles City Attorney.
The filings rankle attorneys for some of the dispensaries.
"To go straight into criminal without an administrative proceeding seems extreme," said Stewart Richlin, who has represented one of the seven dispensaries in civil litigation.
The seven include: The Cannaverse, 1428 Gafffey Street; San Pedro West Third Collective, 4363 W. 3rd Street; LA. Cal Med Access, 754 Washington Blvd; LA Nature's Wonders Caregivers Group, 1330 Olympic Blvd; LA View Park Caregivers, 4705 Crenshaw Blvd.; South LA Universal Holistic Collective, 3546 Martin Luther King Blvd.; and South LA Optimal Global Healing, 11824 W. Pico Blvd.
The filings, at this stage, do not compel any dispensaries to close. But the specter of criminal penalties--even though not felony--could have a chilling effect, Richlin said.
The Los Angeles city attorney's action marks a renewed effort by Los Angeles City Hall to exert regulatory control over the hundreds of dispensaries and so-called collectives that have continued to operate almost unfettered despite a series of previous regulatory efforts that became mired in court challenges. Approved by voters in May, Los Angeles Prop D in essence outlaws dispensaries, except for grandfathering some existing operations that meet certain conditions, including having registered with the city back in 2007.
In June, under previous City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, the office issued a list of 134 dispensaries deemed qualified to remain open. As many as 1,000 or more others did not make the list, including the seven now the subject of this initial prosecution.
The office of City Attorney -- Michael Feuer since July -- did not make any public announcement of the Prop D enforcement action. Feuer's office responded to NBC4's request for comment with a written statement.
"Since the passage of Prop D dozens of dispensaries have shut down. We are working with the LAPD and the City's Department of Building Safety and are filing criminal cases and will defend Prop D against any legal challenges," read the Feuer statement.
Feuer's office confirmed that additional filings are expected in coming weeks.
"Not a good idea," said attorney Richlin. "We'll see you in court."
Still open are several legal cases stemming from litigation over previous attempts by the city of Los Angeles to regulate medical marijuana. Defenders of dispensaries intend to challenge Prop D on several grounds, for one, contending that a requirement for dispensaries to have been registered in 2007 is "arbitrary," Richlin said.
Not affording existing businesses time to transition would constitute a denial of due process, according to Richlin.
"You can't just shut down a business because you don't like it," he said.
Attorney Stanley Kimmel said he expects to represent the individuals named in the Optimal Global Healing case. Kimmel declined to comment on their plans or reaction to the filing.
The misdemeanor complaints allege that violations occurred on two separate dates in August at all seven of the dispensaries. Apart from dates, the complaints provided no details, but merely cited language from the municipal code, alleging that the accused "unlawfully owned, established, operated, used, and permitted the establishment and operation of a medical marijuana business, and participated as an employee, contractor, agent and volunteer, and in any other manner and capacity in any medical marijuana business."
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