FRESNO, Calif. — This city is taking a new approach in its effort to keep medical marijuana dispensaries from opening up in the city: going after the landlords.
The city is asking property owners to evict the dispensaries. In return, the city will end legal action against them.
Fresno attorney Richard Runcie, who is representing two dispensaries -- Earthsource and Central Valley Collective -- accused the city of trying to do "an end run" around the legal proceedings by "trying to scare the landlords."
Doug Sloane, an assistant city attorney, disagreed.
The city of Fresno has sued nine dispensaries, their owners and the landlords housing them, and is asking a Fresno County Superior Court judge to order the dispensaries closed. The city argues the dispensaries violate city ordinances that require such businesses to adhere to both state and federal laws.
Crime and courts coverage Although California voters in 1996 passed an initiative permitting medical marijuana use in the state, federal law still considers marijuana possession a crime.
The landlords -- who were named in the city's legal action along with the dispensaries -- have approached the city about settling the legal action. The city is willing, Sloan said, if the property owner cancels the lease and agrees not to allow dispensaries on any properties they own in Fresno.
Sloan mentioned the city's new effort Thursday in Fresno County Superior Court, where a planned hearing was delayed.
The reason for the delay: the court couldn't determine whether all the parties involved in the city's legal action -- businesses, business owners and landlords -- had been notified of the hearing.
A frustrated Judge Alan Simpson scheduled another hearing for Oct. 8. In doing so, he indicated that he was leaning in favor of Fresno's position.
Earlier this year, Attorney General Eric Holder said federal agents would stop raiding medical marijuana distributors that comply with their state laws.
After Holder's announcement, new dispensaries popped up around the state, prompting a concerted effort to stop their spread, Runcie said. He said the League of California Cities has become a "brief bank" for its members, sharing information on shutting down the dispensaries.
One of the legal tactics is to "scare" the landlords, he said.
Sloan, however, suggested many landlords were unaware that they leased their property to a dispensary. That alone is grounds to cancel a lease, he said.
One of those landlords was Antonio Parra, who owns a property in the 1000 block of North Abby, where a dispensary is operating.
A baffled Parra drove down from the Bay Area, still unclear what the legal summons meant. One thing is certain, he said: His tenants will be evicted.
He said they told him they would be operating "farmers' offices."
Fresno attorney Michael McGinnis, who is representing Compassionate Outreach, said the city is infringing on constitutional rights of individuals "under the guise of enforcing a zoning statute. It's sinister."
Added Sean Dwyer, the owner of California Herbal Relief Center, a Tower District dispensary: "The city trying to get this injunction to shut us down, even though we are in compliance with state law. They made that ordinance specifically to ban medical marijuana dispensaries in the city."