Appeals court reinstates Sonoma County pot rules
June 26, 2010, 6:05 pm
A state appellate court has reinstated the Sonoma County ordinance regulating medical marijuana dispensaries, a measure that had been struck down by a lower court ruling last year.
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Siding with the county, California's First Appellate District Court, based in San Francisco, temporarily put aside a December 2009 ruling by Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Robert Boyd that deemed the 2007 ordinance illegal.

The appellate court issued a brief ruling Thursday that reinstates the ordinance until a final ruling, which could be months away.

The decision throws into legal limbo at least a half-dozen medical marijuana dispensaries that have opened without permits in unincorporated areas of the county since the initial superior court decision.

Karen Kissler, owner of Alternatives, A Health Collective, one of the new dispensaries, called the ruling a “bad decision” and said a coalition of the medical marijuana shops would fight it at the appellate level.

County officials have said previously that they consider the new facilities and any others operating with out a permit to be illegal. But they were not sure on Friday what enforcement, if any, the county would take against the dispensaries as a result of the court order.

“The ordinance is back in effect,” said deputy Sonoma County Counsel Anne Keck. “What type of actions the county takes against (the dispensaries) has not yet been decided.”

Dispensaries without a valid permit under the ordinance that wish to continue operations “may submit a use permit application” to the county, officials stated in a press release issued late Friday.

The legal battle stems from a dispute with Marvin's Gardens, a Guerneville dispensary that didn't seek a new permit after moving from its former location in Rio Nido.

The owners argued that another dispensary was allowed to transfer its application. But last year, county planning officials sent Marvin's Gardens a “stop” notice and the dispensary responded with a lawsuit.

On Nov. 4, Boyd issued an opinion siding with the county, but on Dec. 7, he reversed course and declared the entire ordinance invalid.

Boyd ruled the county failed to demonstrate “there is a rational governmental interest supporting the imposition of the special permit required.” He also wrote that the county did not demonstrate any “health and safety issues” were involved in the use permit requirement. He reaffirmed his ruling in a modified order dated April 28.

Representatives of Marvin's Gardens declined to comment Friday, referring calls to attorneys.

County officials say that since December, people have been interpreting the lack of an ordinance as a green light for new dispensaries, which don't all appear to be meeting the previous standards.

Keck, the deputy county counsel, said the county has received numerous complaints about increased traffic, security and other neighborhood issues from residents near some of the new dispensaries.

In April, Sheriff's deputies raided Native Herbs, a new dispensary outside Cotati at Stony Point Road and Highway 116, seizing hundreds of plants, four pounds of dried marijuana and cash, according to Kerald Mitchell, the owner.

Deputies cited Mitchell on charges of possession of drugs for sale. He later described his facility as a non-profit collective that is within the bounds of the ordinance. A call to his shop Friday was referrred to Kissler, the Santa Rosa-area dispensary operator.

“We're going to vigorously and aggressively fight this,” Kissler said. She said she'd been assured by county code enforcement officials after Thursday's ruling that they were “not going to knock down our doors.”

“We feel that the ordinance is unconstitutional,” she said.

Oral arguments likely will push a final decision in the case into the fall

Published: Friday, June 25, 2010 at 7:28 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 25, 2010 at 7:28 p.m.
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