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Six California Medical Marijuana Clubs Ordered Closed; Medical Marijuana Summit Held


May-June 1998

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer ruled on May 14 that six California medical marijuana clubs must stop distributing the drug because they are violating federal laws (U.S. v. Cannabis Cultivator Cooperatives, et al, 1998 WL 257103 (N.D. Cal., May 14, 1998)). Breyer wrote that federal law supersedes Proposition 215, California's 1996 medical marijuana law that legalized the growth and use of marijuana by patients with serious illnesses, and by their caregivers (Mary Curtius, "Federal Judge Orders 6 Cannabis Clubs Closed," Los Angeles Times, May 15, 1998, p. B3; Ray Delgado, "Pot Clubs Vow to Defy Judge's Order," San Francisco Examiner, May 15, 1998; Howard Mintz, "Judge Says 6 Pot Clubs Must Close," San Jose Mercury News, May 15, 1998; John Ritter, "Calif. judge closes marijuana clubs, for now," USA Today, May 15, 1998, p. 3A).

Breyer rejected the clubs' medical necessity defense, saying it would only be valid in individual cases, and cannot be used because the club distributes marijuana to many patients with different diseases. The ruling applies to the Cannabis Healing Center (CHC) (formerly operated by Dennis Peron) and the Flower Therapy Medical Marijuana Club in San Francisco, the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative, and clubs in Santa Cruz, Ukiah, and Fairfax. There are eleven other medical marijuana clubs still operating in California.

In a separate state court proceeding on May 22, San Francisco Superior Court Judge William Cahill demanded the closure of CHC within five days, calling it a "public nuisance." Cahill said that the center, run by Hazel Rodgers, is essentially the same entity as its predecessor, operated by Dennis Peron, which was ordered closed on April 20 for "illegal sales." The Center was the nation's largest medical marijuana club, which claimed to serve about 8,000 patients. CHC's attorney plans to appeal the decision. Representatives of the CHC initially refused to close the club but on May 25 San Francisco Sheriff's Deputies shut down the center, seizing a small amount of marijuana and money, and changing its locks ("Pot Club to Fight Closure Ruling," San Francisco Examiner, May 22, 1998, p. A25; "Pot Club Ordered Closed By S.F. Superior Court," San Francisco Chronicle, May 22, 1998; Tyra Lucie Mead and Steve Rubenstein, "S.F. Sheriff Seals Doors of Pot Club," San Francisco Chronicle, May 26, 1998; Associated Press, "Defiant Marijuana Club Closes in Sheriff's Raid," New York Times, May 26, 1998, p. A14).

Medical marijuana clubs in Oakland, San Francisco, and Marin County that were ordered closed by Breyer refused to halt their operations. The club operators expressed their desire to be charged with criminal contempt of court which would allow them the right to a Federal jury trial in California. "I'd trust a jury of Californians more than Federal bureaucrats in Washington," said Jeffrey Jones, director of the Oakland Cannabis Buyer's Cooperative. Gerald Uelman, an attorney for Jones' club, said that Breyer's injunction was nonspecific enough that the club can continue operating. "It isn't distribution if it's jointly purchased and used -- that's what's going on in this club," said Uelman ("California Marijuana Clubs Defy Judge's Order to Close," New York Times, May 24, 1998, p. A26; Adam King, "Oakland Medical Pot Club Vows to Stay Open," Montclarion (Oakland), May 26, 1998, p. A3).


On May 14, David Lee Herrick, a Santa Ana resident, was convicted in Orange County of selling marijuana. Herrick's customers allegedly were seriously ill patients whose doctors had given them prescriptions for marijuana after the passage of Proposition 215. Herrick was not permitted to use Proposition 215 in his defense because, according to the judge, the proposition does not protect the sale of marijuana. Herrick will be sentenced on June 26 and faces a maximum prison term of three years and eight months (Stuart Pfeifer, "Man Who Sold Pot to the Sick Convicted," Orange County Register, May 14, 1998).


On May 26, state Sen. John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara) organized a medical marijuana distribution summit which was held before the State Senate Public Safety Committee. Vasconcellos opened the summit by saying the Federal government was key to the conflict surrounding California medical marijuana clubs. Federal officials were invited to the conference but did not attend, which Vasconcellos called "disappointing and pompous and arrogant" (Jenifer Warren, "Officials Suggest Ways to Distribute Medical Marijuana," Los Angeles Times, May 27, 1998, p. A3; Jon Matthews, "Medicinal Pot System Needed, Lawmakers Say, Sacramento Bee, May 27, 1998).

Vasconcellos presented a letter at the summit addressed to President Clinton, signed by him and 22 other members of the state legislature. The letter asked the President to call off federal efforts to halt the operations of medical marijuana clubs in California, and to work instead with California officials to develop a better system of distribution.

On May 28, the California Senate voted 21-13 to create a Medical Marijuana Task Force to recommend a "safe and affordable" system for medical marijuana distribution. The measure, SB 1887, was authored by Vasconcellos ("Getting marijuana to patients," Sacramento Bee, May 29, 1998).

At the forum San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan urged the state legislature to allow county health departments to distribute medical marijuana to patients with a physician's prescription. Hallinan emphasized the need for distribution centers in addition to the marijuana clubs. "My feeling is that if it is done properly, by a health department, and supervised and run as Breyer says -- tightly -- the federal government will pass on it, as they do with the needle exchange," he said, referring to the fact that the federal government has overlooked the San Francisco needle exchange program even though it may violate federal drug paraphernalia law (Mary Curtius, "Cannabis Club Backers Seek Alternatives," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), May 29, 1998, p. B1; Gregory Lewis, "S.F. seeking pot club alternatives," San Francisco Examiner, May 29, 1998).

California Sen. John Vasconcellos - State Capitol, Room 4061, Sacramento, CA 95814, Tel: (916) 445-9740, E-mail: <>.

San Francisco D.A.Terence Hallinan - 880 Brian St., San Francisco, CA 94103, Tel: (415) 553-1752.

Jeff Jones, Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Club - P.O. Box 70401, Oakland, CA 94612, Tel: (510) 832-5346.