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Another Pot Club Bites The Dust

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Although closed, Valley Wellness Center in Tracy may continue legal fight.

The tale of the second medical marijuana dispensary to open in Tracy and San Joaquin County for that matter came to a quiet close over the weekend, with the same amount of fanfare as when it opened.

Even though the store no longer will be there, the legal battle over the Valley Wellness Center may continue after an order to close was upheld by an arbiter two weeks ago.

The collective has 90 days from the date of the ruling to file an appeal with the San Joaquin County Superior Court, a right they haven't waived by closing up shop, according to Oakland-based attorney James Anthony.

"Here's the problem: The city is politically hostile, and the collective doesn't have unlimited resources to fight legal battles," Anthony said.

After being open for about two weeks, the Valley Wellness Cannabis Collective was ordered in November by city code enforcement officers to "discontinue the non-listed use of distributing medical marijuana" in Tracy by Dec. 5.

City officials contend the group misrepresented themselves on their business license, saying their activity would be "retail sales conducted by a nonprofit corporation."

The collective appealed at a hearing held late last month at which an arbiter ruled the medical marijuana dispensary did not fall within the permitted uses allowed in downtown Tracy and ordered it to close by Feb. 9.

In her seven-page ruling, Jeanne Shechter, Merced's assistant city attorney, said the collective "is considered a public nuisance" and operating under "an unauthorized use in violation" of city codes.

"It was wrong both factually and legally," Anthony said. "I was disappointed. Seemed like a nice person, but in the end, surprise, surprise, she found in favor of the city."

The first dispensary in San Joaquin County had been snuffed out after it opened in the summer of 2005 on the third floor of the Opera House building in downtown Tracy.

After being open for only three days, building
manager Jim Ward said he asked the owners of the West Valley Resource Co-Op to move out, and they were gone the next day. He said they didn't have a problem with it.

He said the odor of their products spilled out of the club.
In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215 – the Compassionate Use Act – providing the seriously ill with the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes.

The San Joaquin County district attorney's office interprets the retail sale of marijuana, even those who have a doctor's recommendation, as illegal.
According to the Tracy city clerk's office, nothing relating to cannabis clubs has come before the City Council in the last 13years.

Matt Robinson, a spokesman for the city of Tracy, said the ruling was good news for the city, and if the cannabis club wishes to appeal, the city will defend its position.

"We feel right in doing so," he said.

Anthony said the Valley Wellness Center paid its taxes, was in compliance with building codes and did everything they could to be a good neighbor but "got chased out of town."

They even donated to a few local charities, including the San Joaquin County Chapter of the American Red Cross, Anthony said.

"It just seems unfortunate to me that the city is so politically hostile towards the needs of medical cannabis patients," he said. "They would rather see them travel long distances or take their money to an underground provider than a patient collective."

Source: InsideBayArea.com
Author: Mike Martinez, STAFF WRITER
Contact: mmartinez@trivalleyherald.com
Copyright: 2000-2006 ANG Newspapers
Website: East Bay Times - Contra Costa and Alameda county news, sports, entertainment, lifestyle and commentary
 
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