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Laguna Niguel taking pot clinic to court

Suite A, the only medical marijuana dispensary in the city, has come under fire from the city and federal prosecutors recently.

October 13, 2011|By Alisha Gomez, Special to the Coastline Pilot

Laguna Niguel is set to take the only remaining medical marijuana dispensary in the city to court early next year.

City Manager Tim Casey said the city has filed a lawsuit against Suite A basically to request that the courts close the business because the city believes it violates city zoning code.

Suite A, on the corner of Crown Valley Parkway and Niguel Road, has been fighting the city's demand to shut down since early May, when the City Council unanimously voted to ban medical marijuana dispensaries in Laguna Niguel.

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All of California's medical marijuana businesses have come under fire recently. Earlier this month, federal prosecutors said they would start cracking down on the industry, targeting shops and individuals that operated medical marijuana as a for-profit model, according to a Department of Justice press release.

Federal prosecutors are also sending warning letters to several dispensaries in Orange County, including Suite A. Places that are being sent the initial warnings "are all areas where local officials have taken steps to eliminate marijuana stores and have asked the federal government for assistance," according to the release.

It's a stressful time for Suite A, said Jason Bolding, 32, who started and runs the shop.

"It makes me nervous," he said in reference to the latest news by the Department of Justice. "They are taking rights out of people. You just never know what they can do, and I'm nervous as far as that's concerned. As far as the way we operate the business, I'm not nervous."

Bolding says he doesn't understand why his shop must be shut down.

"We operate in a small place, in the corner," he said. "We're not next to a school. We haven't had crime happen here. We've never had an issue, so I don't know what the reason or emergency is."

In May, the City Council voted to permanently ban dispensaries. The ban stemmed from a 2008 armed robbery that occurred at a dispensary on Forbes Road. That dispensary has since been closed.

Suite A has been the only dispensary in the city for about a year and a half now, Bolding said.

The shop was raided by police in November last year. Bolding declined to discuss the raid.

In late July, the city asked a judge to grant an injunction to force Suite A to close its doors, Bolding said. The judge denied the request, because, according to Bolding, he too didn't understand the urgent nature of an injunction to shut down Suite A.

"I want what (the city) wants," Bolding said. "I don't want (marijuana) to get into the hands of kids. I would love to work with (the city) and figure out a way to go about working this out."

That won't be easy.

"We considered (Suite A) to be in violation of our zoning code when it first opened up," Casey said.

When Suite A sought an occupancy permit — Laguna Niguel doesn't offer business licenses — Casey said Suite A indicated that it was going to be a holistic-type of business.

"Their application for (an occupancy permit) did not reveal the true nature of their operation," he said.

The city and Suite A are set to go to trial in January. Suite A is being represented by attorney David Welch, who is known for his work with medical marijuana dispensaries and other related issues.

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