Leticia Pepper won’t face county representatives in court until March 2012, but she’s already gearing up for a battle that may take her to the state Supreme Court.
Pepper is the attorney representing Crusaders for Patients Rights, the self-proclaimed Christian organization that filed a lawsuit against San Bernardino County in April, after the Board of Supervisors banned medical marijuana dispensaries in all unincorporated areas.
The ordinance, passed April 5 by the board, also prohibited patients and caregivers from growing marijuana outdoors.
Pepper and CPR say the county’s ordinance puts a heavy burden on sick patients. In the suit, plaintiffs say the county didn’t follow the California Environmental Quality Act when it adopted the ordinance. The vocal attorney also says the county is violating state laws regarding medical marijuana.
“What the county is doing is illegal under Prop 215, which says any law must be designed to make access safe and affordable,” Pepper said by phone Friday, on her way to a conference in Los Angeles.
In the Morongo Basin, the county ordinance restricts dispensaries from being established anywhere outside Twentynine Palms or Yucca Valley. Yucca Valley has one dispensary currently operating. Twentynine Palms city officials voted last year to ban dispensaries there.
Pepper claims the county didn’t follow the CEQA process because harvesting marijuana indoors can actually create environmental hazards like pests and mold. Pepper also said growing marijuana inside, without natural sunlight and climate conditions, degrades its quality and effectiveness.
“The main thing is that it’s better for the environment if people can grow marijuana outside …. To make a law that people can’t do something when there’s no good reason for it is illegal,” she said.
During a public meeting of the board of supervisors in March, several people spoke against the county’s plans, saying they did not have the means to grow their own marijuana and would be severely limited in their access to it if there were no dispensaries.
Before adopting the ordinance, the county put a moratorium on dispensaries in 2009 while it studied the issue, citing “a current and immediate threat to the public health, safety and welfare.” Ten months later, the board of supervisors reviewed data from other agencies and claimed crime, loitering and traffic troubles would all result if dispensaries were permitted.
Pepper said the lack of sufficient evidence reviewed by the county is one of many missteps supervisors made before adopting the ordinance.
“Nobody had any evidence about why it wasn’t bad for safe and affordable access. They also didn’t have any evidence from their local law enforcement. They had stuff the California Chief of Police put together in a white paper,” Pepper said.
The California Police Chiefs Association is named as an interested party in Pepper’s suit. The association tried to remove itself from the suit, but a judge denied the request.
Neil Derry, 3rd District Supervisor, whose district includes the Morongo Basin, said his main concern was safety.
“Under a court decision, one individual can grow up to 99 ( marijuana plants ),” Derry noted by phone Friday. “My biggest concern is someone jumping the fence and stealing them. If you want to set up a greenhouse in your backyard and control it, I have less concern over that.”
He said having a home where more than 100 large plants could grow in someone’s backyard “isn’t conducive to a safe neighborhood.”
Pepper said even if a judge rules in the county’s favor, she’s prepared to keep fighting, saying, “If we have to go all the way up to the California Supreme Court, we will.”