In a lawsuit filed against the city, Mayor Terry Tornek and the City Council, the owner and operator of an unlicensed and illegally operating marijuana dispensary is challenging the city’s new marijuana ordinance.
Golden State Collective is one of 12 unlicensed marijuana dispensaries that the city has been trying to shut down over the past three years, one year prior to the state voters formally approving the sale and use of marijuana for recreational purposes.
Despite a city resolution permanently barring operators of currently illegal marijuana dispensaries from receiving permits, Shaun Szameit hoped to come to an agreement with city officials that would have allowed him to keep his business, located at 50 N. Mentor Ave., open after the city started accepting applications from marijuana dispensaries desiring to legally do business in Pasadena on New Year’s Day.
“One of the stated purposes of the ordinance is to prevent those who have previously been ‘illegal operators’ engaged in cannabis sales within the city of Pasadena from ever obtaining a license to sell commercial cannabis products in the city of Pasadena,” the lawsuit states
“Golden State did everything the right way,” Szameit told the Pasadena Weekly. “We brought it to the people and the city thwarted our chances. The City Council took our opportunity to have the voters make this right and I have tried so diligently, tirelessly and faithfully to show the benefits to the community if done right, and have been totally deceived, disappointed, and punished.”
Szameit’s supporters attended the Dec. 17 City Council meeting to send a message to the council.
“There are 1,294 patients that are registered voters in Pasadena that have agreed to take a petition to their neighbors in support of Golden State Collective and vote in unison in upcoming municipal elections,” he said.
According to Szameit, a judge has refused to file a contempt order against him several times in court and has demanded the two sides meet and confer. However, he claims the city has ignored a settlement offer by his attorney.
“Instead, an effort was made to find a judge unfamiliar with the case to sign a warrant to smash, arrest and humiliate citing criminal activity such as finding firearms associated with narcotics trafficking,” Szameit said. “The arrests will be investigated for civil rights violations based on the treatment they received while in custody and handcuffed for three hours over a medical marijuana land use violation, which has been in case management for over four years.”
In November 2016, state voters approved Proposition 64, which allows for the recreational use of marijuana and its sale for those purposes to people 21 and older. That law went into effect in 2018.
By then pot was already being sold and consumed legally in California for medical purposes.
The Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act — approved by California voters in 2016 — allows for medicinal use of cannabis, but it also guarantees that cities can pass their own ordinances regulating marijuana dispensaries.
In anticipation of the state law passing and going into effect in 2018, the City Council in July 2016 passed an ordinance barring dispensaries from operating in the city.
But the city was forced to rethink the issue last year and place Measure CC on the ballot to thwart efforts by cannabis proponents, including Szameit, hoping to place their own initiative on the ballot, which could have overturned the ordinance and potentially flooded the city with marijuana dispensaries.
Nearly 60 percent of the voters cast ballots in favor of Measure CC, which repeals the city’s ban on marijuana dispensaries and allows up to six dispensaries in the city. The ordinance also limits the dispensaries to one per council district.
The dispensaries must be at least 600 feet away from residential neighborhoods, schools, churches and parks. Plus, dispensaries and cultivators cannot operate within 1,000 feet of each other.
“The voters of Pasadena have made it clear that they wish to allow cannabis operations within the city, but with reasonable regulations such as distance separation from residential areas, schools and places of worship,” said City Manager Steve Mermell. “In January, the city began taking applications from those seeking to operate within the parameters established by the voter-approved ballot measure. Mr. Szameit has had every opportunity to comply with the city’s regulations. However, he has instead chosen to violate the law to make profit and is now demanding that he be rewarded for this with a permit to continue his illegal operations. That simply is not right.”
Eighty-nine of 482, or fewer than 20 percent of California cities, allow the sale of cannabis for recreational use, according to the California Cannabis Industry Association, and 82 of Los Angeles County’s 88 cities prohibit retail sales of recreational marijuana, according to the LA Times, quoting an attorney specializing in cannabis law.
Prior to the 2016 election, state officials predicted that legal cannabis would generate up to $1 billion a year in revenue. But based on tax records, the state is expected to bring in $471 million this fiscal year.
“The cannabis industry is being choked by California’s penchant for over-regulation,” Dale Gieringer, director of California NORML, a pro-legalization group, told the Times.
“It’s impossible to solve all of the problems without a drastic rewrite of the law, which is not in the cards for the foreseeable future,” Gieringer said.
As in other cities, Pasadena’s battle against nuisance marijuana dispensaries at times seems to yield little results. Owners, much like Szameit, have ignored cease and desist letters and fines, instead fighting the city in court.
In one case in Pasadena, an illegal dispensary began operating in a space adjacent to a Pasadena liquor store on North Lake Avenue, less than a mile away from two elementary schools and one middle school. The owner of the liquor store, who has been cited by the city, owns both spaces.
But after Measure CC passed, the city’s Code Enforcement Department began going after property owners that were renting to the owners of the illegal businesses.
Earlier this year, the city passed an ordinance allowing city officials to shut the power off at illegal pot dispensaries, a tactic that has worked in other communities. A similar ordinance was used in Anaheim to help shut down 18 illegal dispensaries after 161 others were closed. Of those remaining 18, nine closed within a month of the city turning off their utilities.
“Our lawsuit will be heard across California. We have had tremendous support and will begin the process of collecting signatures to right the wrongs of the unfair cannabis ordinance that creates zero community benefit and is basically a ban based on land use restrictions,” Szameit said.