L.A. Marijuana Farmers Market Ordered to Close Down (For Now)
Marijuana file photo by Timothy Norris/L.A. Weekly
The marijuana farmers market that inspired national headlines when it opened on the Eastside during the July 4 holiday weekend was ordered by an L.A. Superior Court judge today to close its doors, at least for now.
Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer asked for a temporary restraining order against the California Heritage Market and its alleged operators, and today a Superior Court Judge granted that wish.
Feuer argues that the market, which also ran last weekend and was slated for another run this weekend before the judge's order came down, violates Proposition D:
Voters, some of them very pro-marijuana minded, passed the ordinance last year.
It sought to cut the number of dispensaries in L.A. from an estimated 1,100 to about 135 that have continuously operated since a city moratorium went into effect in 2007. These shops are commonly known as "pre-ICO."
The home of the farmers market, West Coast Collective, a.k.a. Progressive Horizon, claims to be one of those pre-ICO dispensaries, which were the main advocates of Proposition D. (West Coast Collective says it opened April 20. Under the law, new dispensaries are not supposed to be opening. But the shop claims to have operated continuously under a different name before moving).
The law, Feuer says, is clear when it comes to who can and can't sell weed in L.A. Those 135 dispensaries can, under strict conditions.
But nothing in the law says their suppliers can come inside and trade cannabis for cash, which the dispensary's representatives admit is what happens at their weekend events.
Prosecutors also alleged that the farmers market violated city zoning rules, presented possible crowding issues, and could have jeopardized safety in the Boyle Heights-adjacent area it served.
Yesterday the City Attorney's office named James Chingming Chen, Paizley Gabrielle Lee and Tom Sang Lee as alleged operators of the market.
Paizley Gabrielle Lee spoke to the media as Paizley Bradbury. She described herself as the director of West Coast Collective and organizer of the farmers market.
When we were working on a preview about the market, she told us that any farmer, edible-maker or even competing, legitimate dispensary operator was welcome to come sell their wares directly to customers at her event.
"We're trying to show a different way of running this industry," she said. "Cut out the dispensaries, who have control over how this experience is regulated."
Now Lee is no longer speaking: She told us yesterday her positions at the dispensary and farmers market were temporary — that she was only hired to get the farmers market off the ground.
David R. Welch, an attorney for the dispensary (he says he doesn't represent Lee — that she has another lawyer), says that the farmers market was legal. Following today's order, he says the market, which planned to open again this weekend, will halt operations until another hearing determines its fate Aug. 6.
He contradicted Lee's assertion that anyone could sell there. He says only the pot-supplying "members" of the "collective" were allowed to sell, and that this makes everything legal.
He said the vendors were technically employees of the dispensary who had filled out IRS 1099 forms, which track payments to vendors for tax purposes. (Interestingly, he also admitted that vendors sold directly to consumers at the events). Welch:
Last weekend's market action, via @DrummieJames
Each one of the people dispensing at the dispensary are all employees They're all 1099, cultivating marijuana on behalf of Progressive Horizons. It's not as if you have multiple businesses at one location. This is all one business. Progressive Horizon maintains control and management over the farmers. I've gone through all the paperwork to make sure that each person is actually a member.
The attorney said there's nothing in Proposition D that prohibits this. (Actually, the law prohibits all medical marijuana business and the operation of such enterprises in city zones with key, well-defined, "limited immunity" for those 135 shops mentioned above).
He said the law is all about "location" (not people), and that the farmers market stuck to its legal location.
At the same time, Welch called the market more of a "weekend open house" than a place of libertarian commerce:
Those collective members who provide products had the opportunity to meet the patients who they provide marijuana too. The patients can ask questions. My clients tried to follow state and city law and provide access to the farmers.
We asked if any pre-ICO dispensary could invite growers to come in and sell directly to consumers. Welch said yes.
"That's exactly what I'm saying," he said. "A dispensary owner does not have to middle man the product."
The City Attorney's office, of course, begs to differ.
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