CIVIC CENTER — The owner of a medical marijuana testing laboratory plans to appeal a decision by an administrative law judge who ruled that City Hall did nothing wrong when it denied the facility a license to operate.
According to a decision written by Judge Howard W. Cohen, Golden State Collective owner Richard McDonald failed to prove that his business was approved by either the state or federal government to possess medical marijuana for testing purposes, which gave City Hall grounds under its municipal code to deny it a business license.
The hearing officer interpreted the law narrowly, McDonald said.
“It was not a great surprise to us that he reached the conclusions he did,” McDonald said Thursday.
The venture is not your typical medical marijuana outfit.
Instead of selling the drug, which is illegal under federal law, McDonald and his team, all trained at elite universities, proposed to test small samples of marijuana to determine what the effects of the drug would be and if it had been exposed to pesticides.
The process destroys the sample of marijuana completely.
The idea, they say, was to inform medical marijuana users about the medicine they were taking under the auspices of the Compassionate Use Act, a voter- approved measure that legalized marijuana for medical purposes in 1996.
City Hall refused to give Golden State Collective a business license because it could not provide proof that its function is allowed under California state law, which does not specifically authorize testing facilities.
Cohen, who heard the facts of the case in a May 25 hearing, upheld that decision.
In a petition filed in Superior Court Thursday, McDonald’s attorney Roger Diamond argued that Santa Monica did not have the authority to deny a business license by citing law from other jurisdictions like the state or federal government.
“… the proposed medical marijuana testing laboratory would not violate state law, but even if it would, it is up to the discretion of the Los Angeles County District Attorney to file charges against anyone with respect to marijuana distribution,” Diamond wrote in his appeal.
Diamond went on to say that Cohen had erred in his analysis by not declaring that Santa Monica had a de facto ban on medical marijuana dispensaries, a use notably absent from the existing zoning code.
“If medical marijuana dispensaries were operating somewhere in the city, and they ought to be able to under California law, then the operation of a medical marijuana testing laboratory would be appropriate,” Diamond wrote.
Anything else would be “irrational, unreasonable and a violation of due process,” he continued.
The denial will go to the Superior Court, where McDonald and his team have had little success in the past. In April, a Superior Court judge dismissed McDonald’s request that the court force City Hall to give him a business license.
Instead, the judge made McDonald go through the administrative law judge hearing, which he also lost.
McDonald is not putting all of his eggs in the testing basket.
In his decision, Cohen noted that although Golden State Collective’s team hadn’t proven that City Hall was actively banning medical marijuana dispensaries, a use allowed explicitly under state law, there was room for them to do so in the future.
If that were to be proven, the legality of such a ban could be considered, Cohen wrote.
McDonald already has a business license application in for a collective cultivation operation, what many would deem a dispensary.
Currently, there are none in city limits, although they proliferate in West L.A.
It’s unclear if City Hall will smile on McDonald’s newest venture.
When he first tried to get a license for his testing facility, which would not have involved the sale of marijuana even to qualified patients, city officials stalled for three months before McDonald felt compelled to take action and open the lab. Shortly after the Daily Press published a story on the lab, city officials ordered McDonald to close.
So far, members of the business license office have just asked a raft of questions, some of which McDonald felt exceeded the scope of their authority.
One in particular — a demand that Golden State Collective turn over a copy of medical marijuana recommendations for any person who will participate in the collective — stood out.
“It would be illegal to divulge confidential patient information,” McDonald said, referencing health information privacy laws.
After his last extended experience with the office, McDonald said he will pursue a business license through normal channels for a month. After that, legal action may be required.
“It is not my expectation or hope that I’ll have to engage in further legal action,” McDonald said. “It is my deep and sincere desire that the city engage with me so we can bring to Santa Monica something that the rest of the state will point to and say, ‘This is how this should be done.’”
An attempt to ban new medical marijuana dispensaries on the part of the Los Angeles City Council was met with stiff resistance by medical marijuana advocates.
They managed to freeze the ban after turning in tens of thousands of signatures to get the matter before voters.