CITYWIDE — The owner and operator of a medical marijuana testing facility denied a business license by City Hall has taken his appeal out of the bureaucratic realm and to his target audience — the court of public opinion.
Richard McDonald, owner of Golden State Collective, took out advertisements in the Daily Press that will run from now through the beginning of next week to try to rally support for his organization while suggesting that City Hall and its decision makers have been bought by the pharmaceutical industry.
“The City is trying to run us out of town!” the ad reads. “It broke its own policy against adult marijuana use! We are recruiting paid organizers to help our cause.”
The appeal, made just as the race for four open City Council seats gets under way, is meant to shine a light on the difference between what Santa Monicans want and believe and what their city officials do, McDonald said.
“I believe that the preponderance of residents of Santa Monica are pro-medical marijuana. I think the polling and statistics and Measure Y in 2006 would bear that out,” McDonald said. “And yet, there seems to be a great disconnect between the sentiments and the philosophies of the population and attitude of the bureaucracy.”
Measure Y was a 2006 measure passed by Santa Monica voters that made even the illegal consumption of marijuana the lowest possible police priority.
That means available officers would have to respond to complaints about disruptive noises before they knocked on the door of someone smoking marijuana for personal use.
To be clear, McDonald’s facility is different from a dispensary, collective organizations that sell medical marijuana to patients under the auspices of the 1996 proposition that legalized its use in California.
Although organized under similar lines, Golden State Collective is a laboratory that takes samples of marijuana from dispensaries and individuals to test for desired traits to treat patients’ symptoms as well as unwanted extras like mold, pesticides and other chemicals.
By the end of the testing process, the marijuana sample used for the analysis is completely destroyed, and the patient or dispensary has detailed information about what is in their medicine.
McDonald feels that his facility is critical to helping people stay safe as they use a drug sanctioned by the state, if not the federal government, which still ranks marijuana alongside dangerous drugs like ecstasy and mescaline.
The feds have raided similar institutions that opened in Colorado.
It’s unfortunate, said Kris Hermes, spokesperson for Americans for Safe Access.
“People like the folks you’re reporting about and ones in Colorado are scrutinized by the federal government and in some cases raided,” he said. “It’s fairly difficult to do the necessary research to advance our understanding and the safety aspect of this medicine.”
Although California doesn’t hold the same distaste for marijuana as the feds, Santa Monica city officials didn’t make it any easier on McDonald.
When McDonald first applied for a permit with City Hall, officials waited approximately three months before letting him know that he would not be allowed to operate.
Their stated reason — that McDonald did not produce proof that his operation was sanctioned by either California or federal law, although what would constitute “proof” was left vague.
McDonald is still flabbergasted.
“We’ll back away from a smoking ban in the city because of our concern about adult medical marijuana users, but no testing,” he said, referencing the July decision by the City Council to shelve an ordinance that would have banned smoking in apartment complexes and condominiums for health reasons.
Many had suggested that the law would negatively impact new medical marijuana users, and it was sent back to the drawing board.
It’s very strange, Hermes said.
“It does not seem to make a lot of sense that on the one hand they would be fairly progressive in the lawmaking and then on the other hand be fairly restrictive and wouldn’t move to benefit public safety,” he said.
After the initial denial, McDonald followed all the normal procedures.
He filed a lawsuit in March, and then an appeal to the denial of the business license in April when a judge ruled that he must exhaust all of his options before trying the case in court.
On July 17, McDonald and his attorney, Roger Diamond, filed a formal grievance against City Hall for allegedly violating its own ordinance, which holds that even a person’s illegal marijuana use be the lowest possible priority for law enforcement.
“What is more in the realm of adult marijuana use than testing it?” McDonald said. “The ability of an individual to test for health and safety of medical marijuana is within the realm of adult medical marijuana use.”
Deputy City Attorney Yibin Shen, who is handling McDonald’s business license appeal, did not want to speak to the matter because of the ongoing litigation.
When asked about McDonald’s outreach, his answer was succinct.
“They have a First Amendment right to buy ads,” Shen said.
Moving forward, McDonald will wage his battle through newspapers and political pressure. He’s talking about creating a political action committee to bend ears as well as additional legal actions to press his case.
“My resources, skill sets, connections and time are limitless,” McDonald said. “I am not going anywhere. So I’d rather put more resources in working with the city to make this happen in the way they want it and the way the people want it and is in their own interest.
“If I have to exert some pressure, time and resources to arrive at the same goal, fine. I have nothing but time and money.”