The county is forcing medical marijuana dispensaries out of Lakeland Village, but don’t expect to see guns blazing.
Out of 11 pot dispensaries found to be operating in Lakeland Village, 10 have been handed cease and desist orders by Riverside County code enforcement, not law enforcement, according to Greg Flannery, code division manager for the county.
“We are working it from a land-use issue,” Flannery said, explaining that of the 10 dispensaries ordered to close, five have shut their doors to date.
Failing to follow a cease and desist order can be expensive: The options are a court challenge, or stay open and pay the consequences of additional citations that can cost a property owner $500 to $1,000 a day, Flannery said.
“The property owners often don’t know their tenants are dispensing,” he said. “Once they find out, they usually get them (the dispensaries) out.”
Lakeland Village has a high number of dispensaries compared to other areas, according to Flannery, but Riverside County has a zero-tolerance policy on dispensing pot. Operations are allowed to cultivate cannabis for medical purposes, but they can’t dispense the drug.
Lake Elsinore and Wildomar also ban marijuana dispensaries, but state courts have yet to rule on the legality of these types of county and city ordinances.
Under California's Compassionate Use Act of 1996, qualified patients and their primary caregivers are permitted "to use, possess and cultivate marijuana for medical purposes without criminal prosecution."
In 2003 the Medical Marijuana Program was also enacted in the state. The program established, among other things, a voluntary registration of qualified medical marijuana patients and their primary caregivers through a statewide identification card system.
But the state law conflicts with federal law, which classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug. Under federal law, cannabis is a controlled substance, just like heroin or cocaine, and medicinal use is not permitted.
Last year, however, in the medical marijuana case of Qualified Patients Association v. City of Anaheim, California's Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled that federal law does not preempt state law. But the court chose not to decide whether California cities and counties can ban medical marijuana dispensing, and remanded the case back to Orange County Superior Court for further factual development.
In a move that could further deregulate the process, HR 2306, otherwise known as the Ending Federal Prohibition of Marijuana Act, was introduced in June. Sponsored by Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank, Texas Republican Ron Paul and others, the bill would remove marijuana from the five schedules of the United States Controlled Substances Act of 1970.
Proponents believe the bill, if passed, would open the door for states to pass their own laws, regulations and taxes regarding marijuana, without threat of a federal challenge.
Flannery, himself a former cancer patient, said he understands that some people may truly benefit from marijuana.
“Some folks have legitimate medical needs,” he explained. “It’s not our job to judge. We’re there to enforce county code.”
For the most part, Lakeland Village dispensary owners are cooperative, Flannery said.
“They’re usually nice people. Often times, they’re just mom and pops who don’t understand the county code.
Flannery said building code violations are also handed out when necessary.
“If there is a health or safety issue, we’ll also cite them for that,” he explained.
None of the Lakeland Village facilities have challenged the marijuana dispensary ban, although two lawsuits brought forth by facilities outside the area are pending against Riverside County, Flannery said.
“Some of them (dispensaries) are heavily lawyered up,” he said, explaining that these types of lawsuits cost upward of $150,000 to defend and, with uncertainty surrounding medical marijuana bans, there is no guarantee the county can prevail.
“I think a lot of people are waiting for the courts to decide the issue,” Flannery said.
Editor's note: Several Lakeland Village dispensaries were contacted for this article, but none were willing to go on the record.