Eviction notices from local and federal authorities have shut down eight medical marijuana dispensaries in Lake Forest after years of litigation and more than $600,000 in legal fees.
The closures come almost two weeks after four U.S. attorneys in California announced they would crack down on the state’s growing medical marijuana industry.
The dispensaries at 26402 Raymond Way held suites on the second floor of a strip mall, and included Lake Forest Patients Group, Pharmers' Choice, Cannabis Permanente, Evergreen Holistic, Cooperative, Florentina Organic, Independent Collective of Orange County and The Health Collective.
Lake Forest zoning code prohibits operations that are not specifically noted in the code, or anything that violates state or federal law, said Debra Rose, Lake Forest deputy city manager.
The marijuana dispensaries operating out of the strip mall’s second floor fall under both categories, Rose said.
More than 100 patients, caregivers and dispensary owners attended the Lake Forest City Council meeting Tuesday to demand the pot shops be reopened, according to the Orange County Register.
"This is serious. It's the end of the line. It wasn't right for them to call in the federal government,” Kandice Hawes, executive director of Orange County NORML, told the OC Register. “It's inappropriate to take something that is state law, and make it illegal. You're driving people onto the streets. Why aren't you protecting us?"
Lake Forest City Council did not take action after Tuesday’s public comment and has not taken a stand on medical marijuana, Rose said, but its ultimate goal is to see the dispensaries close their doors.
Two Lake Forest dispensaries remain open, according to the OC Register.
In 1996, Californians voted in favor of Proposition 215, which created a defense for individuals charged with the possession of marijuana. If brought to court in California, the law allowed charged individuals to defend themselves by claiming the substance was physician-prescribed.
But the cultivation, distribution and possession of marijuana remained illegal under the federal Controlled Substance Act.
In addition to the local case, the collectives are juggling a federal lawsuit, which opponents have until Nov. 5 to appeal, said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. attorney office.
“Lake Forest requested the assistance of the federal government to eradicate (dispensaries) in the city,” Mrozek said.
The federal lawsuit will stay in place even if the dispensaries are no longer functioning, Mrozek said.
Medical marijuana advocates said the closures could force displaced patients to travel for their medication or turn to illicit market.
“It’s not just in California where these aggressive attacks are taking place,” said Kris Hermes, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access. “The outcome is these facilities that patients rely on shut down, (giving them) no other options.”
The Lake Forest collectives opened as early as 2008 and have been facing legal problems since, said attorney Vincent Howard, who represents Lake Forest Patients Group and Independent Collective of Orange County.
Howard said the cluster of dispensaries grew from circumstances.
“They’re all in one location because it’s hard to find a landlord who will allow (them),” he said.
Nearly $130,000 in assets was frozen from the account of Youssef Ibrahim, building owner, according to court documents.
Ibrahim gave his tenants a three-day eviction notice earlier in the week, Howard said.
“My clients are not going to fight it because they understand what (the landlord had to do),” he added.
A hearing for the city’s lawsuit is scheduled for mid-November.