Wednesday, March 10, 2010

City tries to crack down on pot shops

SANTA ANA â€" Bob Guedea sells his marijuana from a sparse room in
an otherwise unremarkable office building, breaking the law every day.

He has an orange permit on the lobby wall that says he's licensed by the
state of California to sell medical marijuana. What he doesn't have
â€" what he can't get â€" is a permit from the city.

Santa Ana banned marijuana dispensaries more than two years ago. But
city officials now believe that at least 29 have opened illegally,
including Guedea's BNT Medical Collective Inc.

"How is it you can be legal from California, but you can't get a damn
city license?" said Guedea, who opened his collective with a partner in
mid-December. "On the one hand, it's legal, and on the other hand, it's
not, and you're still in the same state."

The issue is by no means unique to Santa Ana. Cities from Yorba Linda to
San Clemente and beyond have attempted in recent years to restrict
marijuana dispensaries without running afoul of state law, which allows
the use of medical marijuana.

Both sides are closely watching a legal challenge to Anaheim's law,
which â€" like the law in Santa Ana â€" outlaws marijuana
outlets. An Orange County judge dismissed that challenge in 2008, but
marijuana advocates have appealed.

Santa Ana's law allows the marijuana itself â€" in the hands of a
qualified patient, for example, or given out by a hospice or hospital.
But it flatly prohibits any dispensary that provides marijuana to more
than a single patient.

That law has been on the books since late 2007, but it hasn't stopped
dispensaries from opening. Some apparently lied about what they were
doing so they could get a business license, City Attorney Joseph
Fletcher said; others opened without one.

The city has sent formal notices in recent months to 29 businesses
suspected of being dispensaries and their landlords, warning that they
appear to be in violation of the city's ban. Jay Trevino, the city's
director of Planning and Building, called it an ongoing investigation
and said a "small handful" of the dispensaries have shut down.

A shop called SoCal Compassion was one of them. Its owner, Jason Scoby,
decided to move to unincorporated Sunset Beach rather than fight Santa
Ana. He's now planning to open a school for medical-marijuana vendors
that he calls Cannabis State.

"Shops are going to be in every city in California," he said. "We just
wanted to see if we could work with them, get some regulations. They're
not going to budge."

He and other dispensary owners say such outright bans of their business
overlook an economic reality. The demand for medical marijuana is high,
they say â€" and that means someone is always going to be looking
for a way to supply it.

A small group of dispensary owners have lobbied Santa Ana in recent
weeks, urging city leaders to rethink their ban and to consider
regulating dispensaries instead. But, Trevino said, "There is no current
effort to change that."

At BNT Medical Collective Inc., Guedea compared medical-marijuana
dispensaries to gophers: try to remove them from one part of town, and
they'll re-appear in another.

He and his business partner, Tommy Montejano, said they have every
license and permit they need to sell marijuana legally, except for the
city business license. They sell their marijuana â€" with names
like Grand Daddy Purple and Master Kush â€" to around 120 regular
clients from a quiet office building on Fourth Street.

They say they're not looking for a fight with the city. But they do
intend to stay open.

"There's a lot of people here that need their medication," Montejano
said. "That's what we're here for. I just think we should be given a

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