By Jen Lebron Kuhney for signonsandiego.com
SAN DIEGO — Protesters took to the streets Tuesday to oppose a federal crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries.
Later in the day the city announced a Superior Court judge issued a ruling on Monday that the stores are prohibited by the municipal code in San Diego — a ruling similar to one he made last week.
Approximately 250 protesters marched from City Hall to the federal courthouse to voice their opposition to recent actions by U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy.
The federal prosecutor mailed out hundreds of letters on Oct. 7 to operators of marijuana collectives and their landlords telling them they must shut down within 45 days or risk criminal prosecution and property seizures.
Other U.S. attorneys have sent similar letters to dispensaries across California. They have reminded the public that even though Californians voted in 1996 to allow marijuana for medicinal use, the drug is still illegal under federal law.
Protesters said the forced closure of the dispensaries is going to scare off some of the people who need medical marijuana the most.
Attorney Katherine Clifton, 48, said many of her clients are senior citizens suffering from diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Though it is legal for them to use marijuana for their ailments under state law, she said she thinks many of them will stop purchasing it if the storefronts cease to exist.
“My clients are in a generation where using marijuana is a social taboo,” she said. “They shouldn’t force sick people to become criminals just to get the medicine they need.”
The medical marijuana supporters were joined on their return to City Hall by members of the Occupy San Diego movement, an offshoot of the Wall Street protests which seeks to highlight economic disparity in the United States.
San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith began an aggressive push to shut down its approximately 180 collectives after an ordinance aimed at regulating them was repealed following a petition drive in July.
Councilwoman Marti Emerald, the head of the council’s public safety committee, said it was unfortunate the city was going to have to close all of the collectives after the city created zoning laws that would have allowed them to exist.
The referendum was supported both by some people who thought the ordinance was too strict and others who thought it too lax.
“We really wanted some sort of framework where they could operate without harassment,” she said. “It’s really too bad the plan we put forth was rejected.”
Earlier this month, a Superior Court judged signed orders to close nine of 12 dispensaries Goldsmith alleged broke state law. Despite the backlash from medical marijuana supporters, Goldsmith said in a statement his department will be working to shutter more of the stores.
“Marijuana dispensaries are illegal under local and federal laws and many are illegal under state law. Our job is to enforce the law, not change the law,” he said.
San Diego Superior Court Judge Ronald Prager wrote in his latest ruling that local zoning laws are not pre-empted by state medical marijuana laws and that local rules do not permit the operation of dispensaries in any city zone.
Goldsmith said in his statement that building and collective owners who do not voluntarily close their doors will be sought after for breaking the law.