By Jacob Wilson/Garden Grove Journal
Medical marijuana cannot be bought or sold in Westminster.
The Westminster City Council voted unanimously to uphold the denials of business licenses for two associations that have been running medical marijuana dispensaries during its meeting on April 14. The decision confirms that medical marijuana dispensaries and collectives cannot legally operate in Westminster.
“We don’t need this, we don’t want this and we’re not going to have this in our city,” Mayor Margie Rice said bluntly just before the council voted.
The Alternative Therapy Patients Association and the Golden State Patients Association were both asking the council to reverse recent denials of business licenses to each association.
Westminster code enforcement manager Vicki Morgan and deputy city attorney Elena Gerli presented the city’s case to the council. According to Morgan and Gerli, the Westminster Municipal Code allows the city to ban medical marijuana dispensaries.
Section 17.06.060 states that “no land, building, structure or premises shall be permitted to be used for any purpose prohibited by federal, state or local law or that would be in conflict with the Constitution or laws of California or the United States.”
Limited medical marijuana use, cultivation and distribution is allowed under California law but according to Gerli, state law simply exempts doctors, qualified patients and caregivers from criminal prosecution and arrest.
“The federal law is very straightforward,” Gerli said. “The controlled substances act prohibits cultivation, distribution and possession of marijuana under any circumstance and there is no recognized medical exception.”
According to Gerli, both state and federal courts have declared that there is “no fundamental right to medical marijuana.”
Gerli also argued that though state law may allow for medical marijuana, it does not interfere with a city’s right to choose to follow federal law regarding the issue. In other words, California law does not require that cities allow for medical marijuana dispensaries.
“The Compassionate Use Act did not create any right to medical marijuana,” Gerli said.
No attorney addressed the council on behalf of either business. Only GSPA President Peter Giron spoke in support of his appeal.
Giron insisted that the GSPA is an association and not a collective or a dispensary. Though he never explained the difference between each term. Giron also said that the GSPA had filed with the Secretary of State’s office and had received articles of association.
“The attorney general has said that we can associate collectively or cooperatively,” Giron said. “That’s why we are an association.”
Giron said that they had obtained a seller’s permit through the California State Board of Equalization. Giron then argued that a local medical marijuana association is needed for patients in Westminster.
“Not everyone can grow their own cannabis,” Giron said. “There are older people and people who are terminal who really rely on this stuff.”
He further argued for the legitimacy of medical marijuana as a reliable medication.
“We sell an over-the-counter drug that is recommended by a doctor,” Giron said.
Medical marijuana is technically “over the counter” because it cannot be prescribed by a doctor. But medical marijuana cannot be purchased or used without a doctor’s verifiable written recommendation.
Giron finally appealed to the city’s bottom line.
“If you were to just regulate entities such as ourselves you can collect tax dollars as opposed to using tax dollars to shut us down,” he said.
Before voting, Rice and council members Tri Ta and Andy Quach expressed sympathy for medical marijuana patients but cited the clarity of the statute.
“Right now we have court cases that are supporting our position,” Quach said. “Until the time when the appellate court or the supreme court overturns these cases this councilmember has no choice but to go with staff recommendations.”
Rice admonished the state for creating a confusing situation. “The state should have arranged for it to be distributed through the pharmacies and handled correctly because these other places are too unstable.”
Councilmember Tyler Diep was upfront in his disapproval of medical marijuana.
“Whoever wrote our city code did the right thing by inserting this clause where it allows us to prohibit businesses like this,” Diep said. “Westminster is a traditional, conservative city. As long as I’m here I’m not going to vote to allow any type of marijuana distribution to exist in our city.”
Both the ATPA and the GSPA had begun operating in December but the city ordered them to shut down. In January, each group applied for a business license for the purpose of selling medical marijuana. The city denied the applications on the basis that as medical marijuana dispensaries the associations would violate city law.
Both associations appealed to the city manager’s office. Westminster city manager Donald Lamm confirmed the denials on January 27. Both groups remained open and operating through the new year.
The ATPA finally shut its doors on April 13 due to a court order obtained by the city. As of the April 14 meeting, the GSPA was still open. Aside from their chosen product, the associations do not appear to be related.