Sept. 4 2012 12:00 AM

San Diego County's only permitted dispensary exhausts its legal options

Lance Rogers
Lance Rogers (center) addresses medical-marijuana activists
Photo by Hutton Marshall
Nine months. 

That's how long the county's only permitted medical-marijuana collective was able to stave off eviction. Mother Earth Alternative Healing Cooperative moved out of its El Cajon building today, something that was likely inevitable ever since U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy began a large-scale attack on dispensaries late last year. 

Duffy had sent letters to landlords of dispensaries across the region, telling them that she'd seize their buildings if they didn't boot out the drug dealers. Through the prism of federal law, there is no such thing as medical marijuana, she said. The gambit worked and, within months, the medical-marijuana industry ground to a halt in San Diego County. 

Mother Earth, which was the only dispensary legally operating under county ordinances with the blessing of the Sheriff's department, planned to keep operating as long as it could. ---

Here's what we know from speaking with Mother Earth's legal counsel, Lance Rogers. 

Faced with losing his building, Mother Earth's landlord filed an unlawful-detainer lawsuit against Mother Earth to force it out of the rental contract. The judge agreed that the contract could be voided because Mother Earth was violating federal laws. 

Mother Earth appealed to the state's Fourth District Court of Appeal, knowing that the process could drag out for years. However, a judge rejected Mother Earth's request to postpone the eviction as the case progressed. 

Right as the sheriff's deputies arrived to throw the collective off the property, Mother Earth presented proof it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, a process that usually puts all pending lawsuits on hold. However, the judge agreed with the landlord that, because he faced losing his property, Mother Earth should be forced to vacate. 

KPBS had the story on Monday and today, the landlord changed the locks. 

"People are asking me all the time, 'What's Mother Earth going to do?'" Rogers says. "Unfortunately, it's exhausted all its legal emergency remedies to stay in the building."

Mother Earth can continue its appeals as well as separate lawsuit against the Department of Justice, but none will have an impact any time soon.

The excess marijuana has been returned to the cultivators, Mother Earth co-founder Bob Riedel says. The organization still exists, but is currently homeless and does not expect to re-open a storefront soon. Instead, Riedel indicates Mother Earth will watch to see how the election pans out. 

Even if Mother Earth finds a new space, the process for applying for new permits could take months or years. The collective could find a temporary space, without medical marijuana on the premises, but even then it's unclear what it could offer without triggering Duffy's wrath. 

"Mother Earth Cooperative is able to discuss the reform of medical marijuana laws at the federal level, provide a place for discussion and support of seriously ill medical marijuana patients," Rogers says. 

So, we asked, can they give advice to caregivers about, say, what kind of marijuana would be most effective for certain conditions-as long as they don't actually provide marijuana? 

"Yes," Rogers says. "I do not believe that would rise to the level of conspiracy to violate federal law. That activity should be protected by the First Amendment."


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