Chronic City: Pot Dispensaries Appeal Order To Turn Over Client Names

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Five medical Marijuana dispensaries in Dana Point are appealing an Orange County Superior Court ruling ordering them to turn over records -- including client lists -- to the city as part of an investigation into dispensary operations.

"I think everyone kind of had the same idea about appealing the order for the reason of protecting third-party names and some of the privileged items that we believe shouldn't be disclosed," attorney Lee Petros, representing the Point Alternative Care dispensary, told the Orange County Register.

All five pot dispensaries in Dana Point must hand over their records to the city by Dec. 7, according to a ruling by Judge Glenda Sanders. Sanders also ordered the disclosure of member names to be limited to city attorneys, a financial consultant retained for advice in the investigation, and the assistant city manager, "who will oversee and assist the consultant in his analysis," according to the Register.

Bruce Mirken of the Marijuana Policy Project hopes the appeal succeeds. "For city officials to be allowed to receive confidential medical information for what appears to be a fishing expedition would be an extremely dangerous precedent," Mirken told SF Weekly. "It would be nice if patients could have complete trust in their local officials, but they don't, and for good reason."

Lawyers for the Marijuana dispensaries have strenuously objected to releasing member names, saying that the city's request violates medical and financial privacy rights of members, the Fifth Amendment's protection against self-incrimination, and the First Amendment protection of freedom of association.

The dispensaries, while appealing Sanders' decision to the 4th District Court of Appeals, are also asking the judge to stay her order pending the outcome of the appeal.

Attorneys for the city and for the dispensaries will be in Sanders' courtroom in Santa Ana on Monday, when the judge is expected to rule on whether to set a hearing date before the Dec. 7 deadline to consider staying her order.

Attorneys have said there's no legal precedent for the Dana Point case. Both the city of Dana Point and the Marijuana dispensaries seem to be floating through uncharted legal territory.

The city claims it needs the names of patients to verify whether the dispensaries are operating within the law. However, there's little or no legal guidance regarding the release of patient names from pot dispensaries.

Attorney Petros said he's concerned that even the limited release of patient names won't stop the city from returning to court, seeking to broaden the use of patient names and records.

And Alison Adams, attorney for a dispensary called Holistic Health, said she was concerned that the city would turn around and use the names in order to prosecute future cases against individuals. "I am now horrified that [the city] may attempt to use this information to put a frontal attack on medical Marijuana," Adams said during court proceedings. "Producing any names is...overboard." 

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