*See end of post for an update.
Original Post, March 5, 10:46 p.m.: Until last month, there hadn't been any medical-marijuana dispensaries in Sunset Beach since late 2010, when county officials ruled the unincorporated community had to shutter three clubs operating there, just before that city merged with neighboring Huntington Beach. But all that changed on Feb. 4, when Patient Med-Aid, the cannabis collective catering to severely ill county residents profiled by the Weekly last November, opened its doors in a yellow building near the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and Warner Avenue.
According to one of Patient Med-Aid's founders, activist Marla James, who is also the president of the Orange County chapter of Americans for Safe Access, the dispensary was open to anyone with a doctor's recommendation to smoke cannabis and was intended to help raise funds to finance the provision of free marijuana to low-income, sick individuals. "It was open to anybody in Huntington Beach, but also to Leisure World," James says. "They were coming in quite a bit, and we gave discounts to anyone with cancer or anyone with a life-threatening disease, or to those people who couldn't afford medication."
It didn't take Surf City's finest long to notice the green cross on the side of the building, however. And they seem to have come up with a novel way to force the club to shut down, at least for now.
Just a few weeks after the dispensary opened, Huntington Beach police parked a cruiser directly in front of the building during business hours. Needless to say, the tactic had a marked impact on the willingness of people to use the location to obtain their medication. The city also issued the collective a pair of fines for operating without a business license. (The city refused to provide the collective with one, according to James.)
In response, Patient Med-Aid voluntarily shut down, James says, adding that the group's attorney, Matthew J. Pappas, is currently in negotiations with the city to try to find a way for the dispensary to resume operations. "We need an area where people can come in because, a lot of times, people are afraid of delivery services because they don't want to meet up with a person in an alley or wherever," James says. "It's dangerous for both the delivery person and the patient."
Asked whether she thought city officials would wait until the California Supreme Court issues a much-anticipated ruling on whether municipalities have the right to ban cannabis clubs, James said she hoped not. "I have patients who will die before the Supreme Court rules, and it's really important they get medicine, that we are able to do this in a quick fashion," she says. "I'm meeting someone today who has bone cancer and another guy has brain cancer, and next week, I'm meeting a bunch people getting out of the Marines, and they have PTSD really bad. I don't want to see another vet kill himself because he doesn't have the medication that will help him."
Update, March 14: 9:30 a.m.: Just a little more than a week after Patient Med-Aid voluntarily closed it's up and running again. The collective's spokeswoman, Marla James, confirms in an email that after a fruitless meeting with Huntington Beach city officials, the group decided it had no recourse but to file a lawsuit and re-open.
"We met with Jill Hardy, Joe Shaw and the city attorney," on March 11, James said. "No other council members would meet with us. We expressed how important it was to have a co-operative in the city. We are going to have to file suit against the city to make them listen. Since the city is no cooperating we have . . . re-opened the shop. We need patients to come in." James adds that anyone who is a member of NORML or a military veteran will receive a discount, and free cannabis is available for those with "life threatening illnesses."