Feds Deny LBPD Claim Regarding Medpot Ban

During last Tuesday's city council meeting, Long Beach Police Department Chief Jim McDonnell made several arguments in favor of the City's ban of medical-marijuana dispensaries, including one stating the need for a complete ban in order to obtain federal aid.

"If we were able to get the ban, we then are allowed to get on the list to be able to work with the U.S. Attorney and the DEA to be able to do asset forfeiture, to be able to seize the assets of those that are selling within the city," said McDonnell. "We can't do that as long as we have the two-tiered system where the City has somewhat sanctioned the 18 [dispensaries] and not the rest."

But according to those two federal agencies, McDonnell's claim is untrue.

"There's no 'list' that we have," said DEA Media Relations Officer José Martinez when questioned about McDonnell's quote. "It sounds like it's an internal issue."

While a United States Attorneys' Office representative did acknowledge that it may prioritize expending resources in cities that have a complete ban over cities that allow for medpot use, he directly contradicted McDonnell's claim.

"There is no specific 'list,'" said Thom Mrozek, spokesperson for the Central District of California U.S. Attorney's Office. "As we have said since the initiative was announced last October, the marijuana industry is illegal and subject to federal enforcement wherever it is found. However, given our limited resources and the large number of marijuana stores in our seven-county district, we have in some cases given extra consideration to enforcement in those communities that have made it clear that commercial marijuana operations are unwanted and have taken efforts to remove them. But this does not mean that we will ignore enforcement in communities that have tried to establish regulatory schemes."

McDonnell's inaccurate claim came one month after City Manager Pat West's own inaccurate claim made as part of the push for a complete ban on medpot collectives. In a May 18 memorandum to Mayor Foster and the city council, West claimed "the District Attorney has indicated that they will not file felony drug charges against any dispensary operator in the City as long as the partial exemption from the ban exists." But that claim was characterized as "not true" by a DA spokesperson; and at the June 19 council meeting Richard Doyle, head deputy of the Long Beach branch of the L.A. County District Attorney — who went out of the way to point out that he speaks for Steve Cooley himself — told the council, "We will still files cases whether you have an ordinance or not, whether you have a ban or not."

Neither McDonnell nor West replied to the Long Beach Post's requests for comment.

These are not the first instances of inaccurate representations made to Foster and council by city officials. For example, in May 2010, when asked by Councilmember Rae Gabelich how the City Attorney's Office had come to define collectives as "four (4) or more Qualified Patients and their designated Primary Caregivers" in the crafting of the original medpot ordinance, Assistant City Attorney Mike Mais said, "We came to that number because that's what the state, the Compassionate Use Act, defines a collective as: four or more. […] Since we did follow the state law, which defines a collective as four or [more], I would suggest that we stay with that for the purposes of regulation."

But as the City Attorney's Office later admitted, that claim was inaccurate, as state law does not define medpot collectives, but simply allows patients and caregivers of qualified patients and persons with identification cards, who associate within the State of California in order "collectively or cooperatively to cultivate marijuana for medical purposes." Nonetheless, to this day city ordinance defines medpot collectives as "four or more."

If the City's decision-makers are troubled by receiving inaccurate information as they shape medpot policy, they are not saying so. Mayor Foster, who at this point openly favors a complete ban on collectives, declined to comment, as did Councilmember Robert Garcia, whose motion was the basis for the ban.

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