Crime & Justice

Lake Forest pot shop operators face contempt charge

Attorneys for the city of Lake Forest will go to court today to ask a judge to hold the operators of two medical marijuana dispensaries in contempt for staying open despite being ordered to close.

Attorneys for the city were prepared to seek contempt-of-court orders against eight medical marijuana dispensaries yesterday but, by day's end, four were closed, said Jeffrey Dunn, an attorney representing the city.

On May 28, Orange County Superior Court Judge David Chaffee ordered all 10 remaining dispensaries in the city to close.

Attorney Damian J. Nassiri, who represents the Lake Forest Wellness Center and Collective dispensary, said he filed a notice of appeal today, triggering a stay of the judge's order.

"When you file an appeal it takes away jurisdiction from the trial court and moves it to the appellate court, so this court has no authority in this case," Nassiri said.

Dunn disagreed.

"He's wrong," Dunn said. "The notice of appeal does not stay or stop [the judge's order]."

Dunn noted attorneys for the dispensaries twice failed to get a stay of Chaffee's order.

Lake Forest attorneys successfully argued the city can use zoning laws to prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries, Dunn said. Additionally, in the May 28 order, Chaffee ruled that because marijuana is still classified as an illegal drug by federal authorities, it can't be legally dispensed in California.

In September, as many as 35 pot outlets were in operation in Lake Forest before city officials started cracking down.

In 1996, voters statewide approved Proposition 215 that enabled people with a doctor's recommendation to legal smoke, possess and grow pot, but many municipal officials dragged their feet in accommodating the law, which was later refined by Senate Bill 420.

Dispensary operators and Lake Forest city officials still disagree on what the law does and does not allow, and what municipalities can do to regulate pot outlets.

Lake Forest officials have won several decisions in state and federal court in which judges have ruled that they have the right to use nuisance laws to prohibit dispensaries.

A precedent-setting ruling stemming from Anaheim's efforts to close medical marijuana dispensaries could come from the appellate court in mid-July.