Monday, September 3, 2012
San Diego County's only licensed medical marijuana dispensary will serve its last customers Monday. The business lost its battle to stay open.
SAN DIEGO The Mother Earth Alternative Healing Co-operative holds a unique position. It is the only medical marijuana dispensary licensed under San Diego County's restrictive policy.
The unassuming steel building sits across from El Cajon's airport, a facility which serves 2,500 active customers. Co-founder Bob Reidel says its been tough the past few weeks.
"I mean every day we're dealing with people walking through this building crying," said Reidel. "What are we going to do? How come they don't care? And what am I supposed to say to people like that."
Reidel is venting his frustration because Mother Earth is a casualty of a much bigger fight. California permits medical marijuana, but the federal government does not. And the Department of Justice began cracking down last fall after getting a steady stream of complaints.
U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy ordered the clinic to close and threatened to take possession of the building and everything in it if the sale of marijuana didn't stop.
Duffy declined to be interviewed, but said in a statement:
"It is not a defense to either criminal liability or to the forfeiture of property that the dispensary is providing 'medical marijuana.' The United States Attorney's Office supports eviction of the commercial marijuana businesses, like Mother Earth, that operate outside of federal law."
The business managed to stave off closure seven weeks ago by filing for bankruptcy protection pending an appeal, but that legal stay ends Monday.
"We're going to keep fighting for it," said Reidel. "We're still a corporation, with no home. But, we can't stop this fight. We will stop dispensing and we will look for other legal means to reopen. Hopefully here. Maybe somewhere else that complies with the ordinance. We don't know."
The closure of Mother Earth means there are no licensed medical marijuana facilities in the county. That's leaves an estimated 70,000 patients without a regulated supplier.
The issue has been smoldering since California passed proposition 215 in 1996. Mother Earth Attorney Lance Rogers says the state and federal government need to resolve their differences. A federal judge could change how marijuana is classified. Roger says President Barack Obama can act.
"The closure and the actions by Laura Duffy here in San Diego are at the direction of President Barack Obama, who said that he would leave this alone. So he has control over federal drug policy. Congress could also act. There are a number of bills that address various aspects of this," said Rogers.
None of that action will come soon enough to help the Mother Earth Cooperative stay open. The building is being cleaned out and keys will be turned over to the landlord on Tuesday.