- Editor's note: This story clarifies a previous version that incorrectly identified the nature of the City Council's June 5 vote -
A medical marijuana dispensary in South Lake Tahoe will not be able to move - and could close - after a change in stance by two City Council members this week.
On June 5, City Councilmen Tom Davis and Hal Cole voiced support for allowing the City of Angels 2 Collective to move around the corner from 989 Third St. to 2179 Lake Tahoe Blvd.
But on Tuesday, the councilmen voted against ratifying the change in location for the dispensary. Councilman Bruce Grego continued to oppose the move at the meeting. Without the approval of a majority of the council, the dispensary could be forced to close.
Under an agreement with De Tarr Properties, the owner of the Third Street building where the collective is located, City of Angels 2 is required to cease dispensing medical marijuana at the location by the middle of this month. De Tarr Properties received a letter from federal prosecutors in February warning of legal action if violations of the federal prohibition on marijuana continued.
Both Davis and Cole said a July 2 letter from South Lake/El Dorado Narcotics Enforcement Task Force Commander Jeff Catchings to South Lake Tahoe Police Chief Brian Uhler influenced their decision to vote against allowing the dispensary to move.
Cole said he is concerned with the amount of money involved in supposedly nonprofit collectives. Davis said the letter was a "game-changer" and led to him to oppose ratification of the dispensary move.
South Lake Tahoe has become a "prime distribution point" for marijuana trafficking to the East Coast and medical marijuana collectives are the "main source" of the illegal sales, according to the letter.
"No longer are we seeing the large scale indoor grows. We see a simpler form of trafficking of marijuana through the US Post offices, UPS and Fed Ex," Catchings said in the letter. "It is such a significant problem that the US Postal Inspector's Office recently assigned a full time inspector for marijuana trafficking in our area post offices. Now the primary workload for our task force is the sales and distribution of marijuana from traffickers who simply go to the collective, purchase lbs of marijuana and ship it off in the mail. The profiteering from the sales of marijuana is simply too large to ignore and has become a multi jurisdictional problem."
The letter lists nine examples of SLEDNET investigations in the past two years, including the discovery of 5.5 to 250 pounds of marijuana in the region. Three of the examples include a suspect who says they are associated with City of Angels.
In response, Gino DiMatteo, the collective's owner, told the council he has complied with local regulations and state laws in operating the pot club and said he can't control what people tell law enforcement when they are stopped with pounds of marijuana.
Members of the collective can only purchase 4 ounces of cannabis at a time to help prevent resale, DiMatteo said. The collective uses discretion in regard to the amount of marijuana they provide to members because there are no specific guidelines from California.
And the shaky legal ground occupied by medical marijuana in the state shifted again Monday when The 4th District Court of Appeal overturned a Los Angeles County ban on medical marijuana collectives.
The court found a lower court judge erred when she cited the 2010 ban in granting the county an injunction against a collective. Local jurisdictions can still limit where they locate collectives and require them to obtain operating permits, according to the ruling.
Mayor Claire Fortier and Councilwoman Angela Swanson voted to ratify the relocation of City of Angels 2 Tuesday. Both said the letter from Catchings is "alarming," but expressed concerns about the legal position caused by preventing the move.
Swanson said Tuesday's decision puts the city in a "very precarious" legal position.
Fortier suggested the council revisit the city's rules regarding medical marijuana. The city passed ordinances regulating medical marijuana dispensaries in August after almost two years of debate.
DiMatteo was reportedly in escrow on the Lake Tahoe Boulevard location in June. He declined to comment following Tuesday's decision.
- The Associated Press contributed to this story.