WHITTIER - Bowing to threats from the U.S.
Department of Justice, Whittier Hope Collective, the city's lone medical
marijuana dispensary, has shut down.
Robert Ortiz, director of the 5,000-member collective, said
the dispensary - located on the 8100 block of Byron Road - was closed
A letter from the U.S. Attorney's Office dated June 5 had gone
to Ortiz, the other two owners of the dispensary and their landlord.
"This letter serves as formal notice to you that the marijuana
dispensary's operations violate United States law and that the
violations ... may result in criminal prosecution, imprisonment, fines,
and forfeiture of assets including the real operation on which the
dispensary is operating and any money you receive (or have received)
from the dispensary operator," stated Andre Birotte Jr., U.S. attorney
for California's Central District.
Ortiz, who operated the collective with his mother, Dolores
Enriquez and his girlfriend, Sandra Newby, said he was shocked to
receive the letter.
"Obama had made comments about not prosecuting locally regulated medical cannabis facilities," Ortiz said.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in 2009 had said the federal
government will no longer prosecute the dispensaries as long as they
follow state law.
The City Council on a 3-2 vote in October 2009 approved a conditional-use permit allowing Whittier Hope Collective to operate.
Nearly a year later the dispensary opened. The collective even joined the Whittier Area Chamber of Commerce.
Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the Central District office, said there is no change of policy by the federal government.
The U.S. Attorney's Office has sent numerous letters out, and the they have nothing to do with local zoning, Mrazek said.
"It is our position that every single dispensary we have
looked at are also in violation of California law," Mrozek said. "Of all
of the stores we've looked at ... they're operating as for-profit
California law specifically says that anybody involved in medical marijuana can't make any money, he said.
In addition, state law states that the only legal transactions
are between a patient receiving the drug, the doctor and a primary care
giver, he said.
"It's very clear that somebody operating a marijuana store
selling is not a primary giver for somebody suffering from cancer,"
Ortiz said his collective had nonprofit status under federal law and thus meets the California law.
"It doesn't sound like they're informed enough on the particulars of everybody they're sending these letters to," Ortiz said.
Kris Hermes, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, said
Whittier Hope Collective, apparently was caught up in the crackdown by
the federal government.
"Even in cases where the facility is in full compliance with
local and state laws, the feds have been going after them," Hermes said.
"We're troubled by the continued attack on these businesses
because it threatens the ability of hundreds, if not thousands of
patients to be able to safely and legally obtain their medication,"
Whittier Councilman Joe Vinatieri, who has supported a ban on
medical marijuana in the city, said he is pleased the dispensary shut
"Breaking federal law is not something that we should be encouraging in Whittier," Vinatieri said.
Whittier police Chief Jeff Piper said his department never had any issues with Whittier Hope Collective.
Despite the closure of the dispensary, the collective still remains.
"We still have to work out how we'll go about helping the
patients," he said. "The letter was about asset forfeiture. It doesn't
say (the federal government) will take away our right to be a patient
and exchange medicine."
562-698-0955, ext. 3022