By PAUL PAYNE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A tentative ruling from a Sonoma County judge will keep a Larkfield medical marijuana dispensary closed while it goes through the county permitting process.
Judge Mark Tansil on Wednesday issued a preliminary injunction against Kush Organics on Old Redwood Highway, which opened in April without a permit.
He ruled that Sonoma County has an interest in enforcing zoning laws, deterring violations from other marijuana clubs and protecting the public. But he also said Kush has a right to speedy consideration of its business license application, which includes a hearing before the Board of Zoning Adjustments.
Kush was one of two dispensaries that were sued by the county for opening prematurely. The other, Valley of the Moon Collective in Kenwood, also was closed but has since been allowed to reopen.
“It’s simple — Kush Organics thought they were above the law and they got caught,” said Supervisor Mike McGuire, whose 4th District includes the neighborhoods just north of Santa Rosa. “It wouldn’t be OK for any other business to operate without a permit,” he said.
The ruling confirmed potential hurdles for Kush, which include a complaint that it is within 1,000 feet of a dance studio that offers classes for children and that it is too close to a residential neighborhood.
But Kush lawyer Dan Beck said it also offered good news for his client. He said Tansil ordered Kush be given a “timely hearing” on its application rather than being forced to wait what Beck estimated would be six to nine months. Beck said he would ask to have it in 30days.
“We’re hoping the court will set a short fuse and we’ll get our day to argue a valid use,” Beck said. “It’s all we really wanted.”
Issues surrounding the dispensary’s location could be resolved by establishing special hours of operation and putting up physical barriers, like a fence, Beck said.
Tansil is expected to confirm his ruling after hearing from both sides Thursday.
In the ruling, he traced a timeline of the dispute between the business and the county:
Kush opened just north of Santa Rosa on April 5, without first getting a permit.
County officials sent a letter, asking the dispensary to close. When that failed, the county sued and the judge issued a temporary restraining order May 1, shutting the dispensary until it obtained a permit.
In issuing a preliminary injunction, which essentially extends the restraining order, the judge had to first find the county would prevail on the merits of the case. He said the county met that burden.
Also, he had to find no harm would come to either side. Since there are other dispensaries, customers could go elsewhere to buy marijuana, he said.
“While the court hears the pleas of medical marijuana users, this business has only been open since April,” Tansil wrote. “There are other marijuana dispensaries and Kush can aggressively pursue a use permit.”
In the unincorporated county alone, there are 11 open dispensaries, including four with permits and six without, said Pete Parkinson, director of the county’s Permit and Resource Management Department.
If they nominally meet standards, they are allowed to remain open while their applications are pending, Parkinson said. Only those that don’t have been sued, he said.
He defended the length of time it takes to complete the process, saying the analysis is thorough and many applications are turned in before they are complete.
“It does take a few months,” Parkinson said.