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  What a Mess


By James D. Davis

3/22/12

 

Dear Editor:


I have read the city manager’s update on marijuana clinics.  What a mess.

As the clinics proliferated, two tracks were taken: Civil and Criminal.  The civil track was expensive, as illustrated by closing down Stan the Man clinic, with an injunction (injunctions like this cost between $10,000 and $140,000, depending on how much opposition the city gets), and the council had not thought to provide for recovery of attorney fees in its civil ordinance, so there was no way to get the money back.  Closing down 15 clinics (now 24) with injunctions was going to be very expensive.

 

In the fall of last year, the council directed the city manager and staff to formulate an ordinance that controlled the clinics.  In November, the villagers overwhelmingly approved a measure calling for taxation of the clinics.  But while the staff was working on the ordinance to license and tax the clinics (and control their number), litigation in other parts of the state called into question the legitimacy of such a scheme.  The city manager, staff, and council decided to put the matter on hold until the California Supreme Court rules on several cases before it (maybe this year), involving how marijuana clinics are established, not whether they can be established.  The latter question would appear to be settled by the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 (16 years ago).


The chief of police (Robert W. Nichelini) was not nearly as practical as the government.  He decided to continue closing down clinics with the full weight of his department’s law enforcement resources, notwithstanding the uncertainty of the law.  Oddly enough, the search warrants he obtained seem to be based on violations of California regulations, not violations of California law(Penal Code).  Violations of regulations do not typically end up in criminal court.  Some clinics had “excessive amounts” of marijuana, had large amounts of cash in the bank, sold some marijuana to non-members, as verified by “controlled purchases” (undercover police officers or their agents), and made some illegal building modifications.  For this, the clinic is closed down?  Businesses who violate regulations are typically told nicely to correct the violations; if they continue, the warnings get more severe.  Only after repeated refusal to follow regulations is the business closed down.


Despite the legal complexities involved in the operation and regulation of clinics, our police were directed by the chief to spread out all over the city, investigate the clinics, send in undercover officers posing as patients, maybe take videos of people going in and out, tap phones, check bank accounts, investigate internet use—the whole nine yards.  And they found violations (again, violations of regulations, not law),  Their comprehensive investigation turned up some business records showing retail sales (I suppose that’s different from retail sales to legitimate patients?), prohibited food products containing marijuana, cash concealed on the premises (don’t all businesses conceal their cash?), illegal growing activities, weapons stored on the premises (would you operate a business in Vallejo without a weapon?), and possession of other illegal drugs.  There is no discussion of how many clinics are violating the regulations; just that some are.  Does that justify an Elliott Ness war to close them all down?


The chief, who has a chum in the DEA, has also been working with not only the DEA, but with the United States Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District, the Franchise Tax Board, the Solano County District Attorney, and the Solano County Narcotic Enforcement Team.  Imagine if the chief marshaled these magnificent resources to fight crime.


And while the city is concerned with the high cost of obtaining civil injunctions to close down clinics, there is no mention of the cost of police department investigations, surveillance, obtaining search warrants, making unannounced raids, arresting and prosecuting owners and patients, confiscating and auctioning off the owner’s property, taking possession of the buildings some luckless owners rented out to what they thought were legitimate businesses, etc.  If the chief closes them all down, we’ll have 24 new empty spaces.  Nice.  That should improve things.


The chief is running a rogue agency, backed up by the mayor and some council members.  No one is in control.  No one can tell the chief to stand down.  He continues with his Disneyland shtick, destroying lives and livelihoods, taking away sorely needed tax revenue, eliminating a source of relief for patients suffering pain, and getting his name in the paper.  Welcome to Vallejo.


It should be noted that the powerful police union (VPOA), the one that manhandles the council for more raises, has nothing to say about a nutty chief.  They just go along while the burglars, rapists, robbers, shooters, assaulters, murderers, and car thieves thrive.  Nice.