The owner of The Variety Co-op medical marijuana dispensary is being fined by the County on a near-daily basis. It's quickly adding up – when he spoke with the Weekly, the owner, who we'll call Fred, estimated the County fines he and his landladies have incurred at approximately $56,000.
The Variety Co-op is a marijuana dispensary situated in Midway City, one of a handful of unincorporated areas in Orange County. Unincorporated land tends to attract dispensaries, as they eliminate pesky city councils and enforcement. County officials have the final say on most things in unincorporated areas.
Fred was granted a retail certificate by the county in December 2008 and opened his shop January 6th, 2009. Almost two years later, in December of 2010, county supervisors moved to ban pot shops beginning in January 2011. This forced The Variety to temporarily shut their doors, reopening annually from 2011-2013 to avoid losing their retail certificate.
Early this year, Fred decided to attempt to end this odd scenario, seeking to take the issue to court in order to argue the legality of his retail certificate. However, he needed to be ticketed by the County in order to contest the charges in court.
On July 1st, a county code enforcement officer by the name of Chris Casillas went to The Variety in order to issue a warning and let Fred know that his shop was violating the county law. Fred says he asked to be cited so he would be able to begin the lengthy legal process of challenging the county. According to Fred, Casillas did not issue a citation or tell him to shut down the shop. Rather, he says Casillas harassed his landlady on a near-weekly basis, showing up to her residence and issuing fines for her refusal to evict Fred.
On August 6th, Fred says Casillas came into the shop and issued a citation for $1,100 to both himself and his landlady. The next day, Fred was issued another, now for $1,200. And August 8th the citation was for $1,500. Nearly every day since then, Fred has received another $1,500 citation from Casillas.
Both Fred and his lawyer, Stan Lamport, have expressed discomfort with the county's creation of an all-or-nothing scenario for them. If they are successful in their upcoming legal battle, they will operate legally; if not, Fred will be saddled with roughly $100,000 in citations as well as legal fees. Lamport informed the Weekly that the county has not scheduled a specific date for the hearing at this time.
"I gotta hand it to [Fred], he's made a concerted effort to be compliant," said Lamport. "The only way we can test this [the legality of their retail certificate] is by opening up."
At a County Board of Supervisors meeting on September 16th, a few patrons of The Variety chose to advocate for the shop during public comment. Jacob Norcross, (a young man with Tourette's syndrome) Tom Powers, and Travis Johnson (both Tom and Travis are cancer survivors) voiced pleas to the Board. They spoke primarily to Supervisor Janet Nguyen (The Variety is in her district), but elicited expressions of shocked sympathy from the crowd and Supervisor Moorlach alike.
Lamport and Fred both seem optimistic about their chance of legal success, although it is unclear when they will have their day in court. Lamport suggested that their hearing will likely occur in late October, pending the County rescheduling yet again.