Pot dispensary fails to sway judge on decision closing Downtown Auburn shop

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A Placer County judge is sticking with a decision effectively keeping the doors of a Downtown Auburn medical marijuana dispensary closed. But Superior Court Judge Colleen Nichols’ ruling Tuesday also clears the way for the civil case between the city of Auburn and Sierra Patient and Caregiver Exchange to be bumped up to the 3rd District Appellate Court. David Brock, attorney for the Lincoln Way dispensary, said after the hearing in Roseville that an appeal is exactly where the case should now be taken. Brock had argued that state medicinal marijuana laws first established in 1996 trump the city’s attempt to ban the dispensary. A attorney David Ruderman, representing the city, told the court at the hearing that the city has the legal right under state law to regulate land use and close a medical marijuana dispensary “operating in a quasi-commercial fashion.” The city established a ban on dispensaries five years ago. Nichols, who had issued a tentative ruling a week ago siding with the city’s stance, said Brock and the dispensary would be free to test what it considers a breach of a legal status quo that she considers a “clandestine status quo, so to speak.” “I understand your point,” Nichols said. “I spent days and days researching this issue and this is not the only city doing this.” Nichols added that her view in the case is a narrow one while the Sierra exchange is attempting to broaden the issue. Brock said the exchange will not operate under a court-imposed preliminary injunction as it pursues a reversal on appeal that would allow it to reopen the dispensary. The dispensary was closed in late July after an initial temporary restraining order was granted to the city. Exchange president Richard Miller said after the court hearing Tuesday that he’s prepared to fight the city further in court in an attempt to re-open the dispensary. About 500 patients had registered with the Lincoln Way location, which opened in April. Miller said his own experiences using cannabis salves for injuries from a car accident and a fall from a barn have convinced him personally about the benefits of medical marijuana. At one point he was taking more than 450 pills a month, he said. “After two weeks of salves and oils, I was off any pill and have been for 2½ years,” he said. “I’m committed to the fight. It’s a matter of principle.” Miller said the future of the dispensary is up in the air, with Nichols’ decision. “I’m stunned and in shock,” Miller said. “This is a non-profit and it’s hard to operate a non-profit to begin with. To shoot it down like this is playing political hardball. They’re trying to break me.” Sitting in on Tuesday’s court session was Lanette Davies, director of government affairs for Sacramento’s Crusaders for Patients Rights. Davies agreed with Miller’s statement that the move to close Sierra Patient and Caregiver Exchange had more to do with politics than law. “I believe the appellate court decision will be much better,” Davies said. “And the people of Auburn deserve at least one collective. This was an opportunity for the city to embrace the community’s needs and it loses out when something like this falls.” Mayor Bill Kirby said he wasn’t surprised by Tuesday’s ruling and would be surprised if the appeals court decides to hear the case. “There are no grounds for appeal,” Kirby said. “This has been through the courts in other cities and it’s a straight licensing issue.”