Why Is L.A. Spending Your Money to Shut a Dispensary for Imperfect Paperwork?

Why Is L.A. Spending Your Money to Shut a Dispensary for Imperfect Paperwork?
File photo by Timothy Norris/L.A. Weekly

A downtown marijuana dispensary is fighting City Hall's efforts to shut it down. Toluca Lake Collective opened in 2006 and registered with the city in 2007 before a December deadline to do so, says owner and well-known weed activist Frank Sheftel. The problem with the city arose, he said, because he filed to obtain a Business Tax Registration Certificate at City Hall's Van Nuys annex instead of at City Hall downtown

At issue is whether  Toluca Lake Collective, which Sheftel originally opened on Riverside Drive but moved downtown to comply with city regulations, is one of Los Angeles' original pot shops. In 2007 the city enacted a moratorium on collectives, allowing only about 188 that existed to stay open.

Then in 2013, voters approved Proposition D, which granted limited legal immunity from prosecution for the 135 pre-moratorium shops still operating. 

Those stores are known as pre-ICO, named for the "interim control ordinance," the City Council's moratorium.

In a town that some observers believe has more than 1,000 post–Proposition D dispensaries — in other words, they would be considered fully illegal — Sheftel thinks the case against Toluca Lake Collective (TLC) is a travesty.

"It was the city's error" in allowing him to register in Van Nuys, he said. "They're wasting time and money." 

Toluca Lake Collective's attorney, Stephen Fisch, said Los Angeles city prosecutors are arguing that the dispensary didn't register "properly" even though was among the 188 pre-moratorium shops.

The city filed a misdemeanor complaint alleging that Toluca Lake Collective is a marijuana business in violation of the law, that it operates outside zoning rules — and that it does not have proper permits.

The dispensary has asked a judge to allow it to claim the city's "limited immunity from prosecution" guarantee approved by voters under Proposition D. That motion was scheduled to be heard Monday.

If Sheftel loses his motion, that could mean a slam-dunk case for the city, Fisch said, because at that point, "The city just has to prove it's a medical marijuana business that's open" to go after it as illegal.

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The City Attorney's Office doesn't usually comment on ongoing litigation. However, the City Attorney's Office says dispensaries are still illegal in Los Angeles. Proposition D offers limited immunity for a few (now said to number 125 to 130).

But City Attorney spokesman Rob Wilcox told us previous to this controversy that,  "There is no such thing as a compliant dispensary."

Sheftel said he opened the shop after suffering stomach ulcers so severe that he lost a lot of weight and turned to marijuana for medication. "People could see that I was ill," he said.

In 2013, when a deadline approached for pre-ICO dispensaries to move to locations that complied with Proposition D's rules (such as not operating near schools), TLC moved downtown. Previously, Sheftel said, his dispensary was indeed "in a residential area ... doing business as a hospice."

He says the place is following Proposition D's rules, yet the city is using a strange technicality — that he registered to pay his dispensary  taxes in Van Nuys — as a reason to prosecute.


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