Council votes to shutter pot club
The City Council voted 4-0 on Tuesday night to uphold revocation of the business license for the Purple Elephant medical marijuana dispensary. But an attorney representing the dispensary said he intends to sue to keep its doors open.
City Attorney Teresa Highsmith said the decision effectively shuts the club down. But Edward Higginbotham, the dispensary’s attorney, disputed that, saying he thinks the city will need a court order first.
The council’s vote followed two hearings that each ended with revocation orders. Mayor Beverly Johnson recused herself from the council discussion and decision because she presided over the previous hearing on the license.
The dispensary’s advocates pleaded with the council to keep it open. They said the Purple Elephant offers them safe access to the medicine they need, and that it could provide a needed tax boost to the city.
“Medical cannabis saved my life,” said Juliet Hopper. Hopper, who appeared in a black suit and heels, said she moved here from Cleveland to advocate for medical marijuana, which she said helped her battle manic depression. She said she was on over 40 medications before switching to marijuana to help her with her ailment.
Robert Raich, who litigated both of the medical marijuana cases that went before the U.S. Supreme Court, said the club’s application as a “miscellaneous retail” outfit is standard operating procedure for pot clubs, designed to avoid raids from federal drug agents. Although California voters have okayed the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, it’s still illegal under federal law.
But opponents said the club’s operator snuck into town under false pretenses. Kathy Moehring, executive director of the West Alameda Business Association, said that while she doesn’t have a problem with medical marijuana, she doesn’t want the dispensary on Webster Street.
“We are the first ones to say we are all being NIMBYs. We don’t want this on our street,” Moehring said.
Council members said they weren’t voting on the merits of marijuana as medicine, but on whether their process was followed. Council member Marie Gilmore said the club’s operators didn’t make the same efforts to connect with local business associations and others that other businesses might.
“That furthers in my mind that this was something that was done undercover,” Gilmore said.
The city moved to revoke the license in November, saying that the club’s owner, Luke Coleman, failed to accurately state the type of business he operates and to secure necessary zoning approvals before setting up shop last July. Higginbotham had argued that the city denied his client adequate due process in handling the revocation.
The city council approved, then extended, a moratorium on pot clubs until it could study the issue and write ordinances detailing whether such clubs would be allowed to come to the Island and under what circumstances. The moratorium extends through June 2010.