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California and the West

Judge Orders Closure of Cannabis Club

Court: Ruling stuns San Francisco operators, delights Lungren. Impact on similar operations is unclear.

April 16, 1998|MARY CURTIUS and MARIA L. La GANGA | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

SAN FRANCISCO — A San Francisco Superior Court judge on Wednesday ordered the immediate closure of Dennis Peron's Cannabis Cultivators Club, the first order of its kind since voters approved an initiative to legalize the medical use of marijuana in 1996.

The late afternoon ruling stunned the club's operators and San Francisco political leaders, who have supported the club for years.

"I find it shameful, and my hope is that there will be an appeal," said San Francisco County Supervisor Tom Ammiano. "To me, it doesn't seem like justice, but like some kind of witch hunt. The sentiment and the political will in San Francisco hasn't changed."

State Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren, whose office initiated the legal action that led to the closure order, welcomed the decision. Lungren had asked that the club be shut down on the grounds that it was an illegal drug house unprotected by Proposition 215, which allows the use of marijuana under narrowly prescribed circumstances.

"Today's decision is based on the club's own admission that they were selling to other cannabis buyers clubs, which is clearly against the law," Lungren said in a news release.

Peron had argued that his club, which he says serves about 9,000 people, qualified as a "primary caregiver" under the initiative. He said he was authorized under the law to provide marijuana to sick people and to their caregivers, as long as he was reimbursed only for his expenses.

What is unclear is what, if any, impact Wednesday's ruling will have on more than a dozen cannabis clubs operating across the state. Lungren did not address the issue in his news release. Instead he urged that "rather than continuing the debate about cannabis buyers clubs, let's turn our focus to a question that is still undetermined--whether marijuana has any medicinal value."

In December, the 1st District Court of Appeals ruled that Proposition 215 did not authorize cannabis clubs to serve as primary caregivers. In February, the California Supreme Court decided not to hear the Cannabis Cultivators Club's appeal of that ruling.

Superior Court Judge David Garcia said Wednesday that he had no need to rule on the question of whether Peron was, in fact, a primary caregiver because "the court finds uncontradicted evidence in this record that defendant Peron is currently engaging in illegal sales of marijuana."

Those illegal sales, Garcia said, were to other caregivers.

At the Market Street club, Peron, who is a Republican candidate for governor, did not immediately shut the doors of his four-story, fancifully decorated cannabis club. Instead, he went on television to denounce the ruling.

"It is another technicality they are using to thwart the will of the people," Peron said in an interview. "We are not moving this club. We have 9,000 patients. How do you move 9,000 people? It's insane."

Besides, he said, the club serves as his campaign headquarters, and "you can't evict a candidate for governor two months before the primary."

Lynne Barnes, a registered nurse who has worked at the club for years, said she was stunned.

"This has hit us like a ton of bricks. There are 9,000 patients and this is a medical emergency for those patients."

Barnes said the club had told caregivers they could no longer come in and get marijuana for patients. The club is only providing marijuana to patients with a doctor's recommendation, she said.

Peron's attorney, J. David Nick, vowed to return to Garcia's court for clarification of the ruling.

"The order seems a little quirky," he said. "On the one hand, [Garcia] says Peron can clearly provide medical marijuana to patients and receive reimbursement. On the other hand he says, however, because Peron's providing it to caregivers, he's a nuisance."

Nick said that the club was still functioning for the moment. "The doors are not closed. However, they will close until we are able to go back to the judge and get him to clarify the order." Nick said he hoped to return to Garcia's court next week.

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