Council denies permit appeal for South Lake Tahoe’s only medical marijuana dispensary
The South Lake Tahoe council chambers erupted in protest from Tahoe Wellness Cooperative patients on Tuesday when council unanimously voted against an appeal that would allow the South Shore’s only medical marijuana dispensary to keep its doors open.
On Dec. 13, South Lake Tahoe city council was tasked with determining whether or not to uphold city manager Nancy Kerry’s decision to deem the paperwork for Tahoe Wellness Cooperative’s business permit renewal as incomplete.
Tahoe Wellness Cooperative, run by executive director Cody Bass, is in ongoing litigation regarding a purchase agreement with the landlord at Bijou Center, Patricia Olson, and was unable to secure her signature of consent on the city’s form for permit renewal — a necessary requirement in the city code on medical marijuana dispensaries.
Neither Olson nor her attorney Bruce Grego were in attendance at the hearing. City attorney Tom Watson, however, said he spoke with Grego who “in no uncertain terms” let him know that the landlord would not give consent.
But, as Bass’s lawyer Henry Wykowski argued over the course of the quasi-judicial hearing, the lease agreement between Olson and Bass — which does not end until Dec. 2017 — should serve as consent.
The reason for this, said Wykowski, is because Olson is withholding consent in order to put pressure on Bass to cease litigation over the purchase of her property.
Bass and a group of investors entered into a purchase agreement for the Bijou Center in March. For reasons that have not been made public, Olson no longer wants to sell, and Bass is suing for breach of contract. A trial date is set for February.
A notice of default, however, has been issued for Olson’s Bijou Center. The U.S. Bank now holds the note for the property, which is set to be auctioned off on Jan. 17.
Despite her refusal this time around, Olson has given her written consent to Tahoe Wellness Cooperative twice over the last four years for the business permit renewal application.
“This proves even more that they are withholding consent to gain leverage [in the ongoing litigation],” said Bass.
Kerry reminded the council that they were not assessing whether medical marijuana should be allowed in the city, if it is beneficial to the patients that use it, or even if it is right for Olson to withhold consent — instead, they were determining whether or not, as dictated by the city code, the application for the business permit renewal was incomplete.
“The city’s position is that the lease cannot supplant the forms that are required for renewal of application. Those forms are required to be completed per the municipal code regarding marijuana regulations,” said assistant city attorney Nira Doherty.
“The city’s code states that renewal application must be completed on forms provided by the city.”
“As I understand it here, our options are very narrow. We are only talking about compliance with the city marijuana ordinance,” said councilmember Tom Davis.
After nearly an hour and a half of proceedings — and with no public comment due to the restrictions of the forum type — council voted to uphold Kerry’s decision, ultimately requiring the cooperative to shut its doors on Wednesday, Dec. 14.
Council would not accept the consent of the lease as a substitute for Olson’s signature on the city form.
After the votes were cast, the crowd of Tahoe Wellness Cooperative patients expressed what they had not been allowed to say in the hearing.
“I have had 1,000 seizures. I would die without this,” Craig Brown shouted at the council after the conclusion of the hearing.
“My husband Craig had brain surgery for epilepsy three years ago. Severe epilepsy where the seizures won’t stop. He still has them unfortunately,” said his wife and full-time caretaker Alyson.
“But the other day I gave him a full dropper of CBD oil and his seizure stopped fully, and that is why we’re here. It’s life saving.”
But for the Craigs, the importance of the Tahoe Wellness Cooperative extends beyond the medicine.
“They have haircuts; they have massages. I have a lot of anxiety due to what we’re going through, so going to the Tahoe Wellness Cooperative and all the classes that they offer really helps when you’re home and you’re isolated. Just to have others to talk to about it.”
Though the vote was not in their favor, Wykowski says this is not over yet.
“We will definitely file a mandate as to have this reviewed by the court. I would hope that the council would entertain a motion to allow the dispensary to remain open while the court is deciding whether the action that was taken today was appropriate,” he told the Tribune after the hearing.
Without this allowance, South Shore’s only remaining medical marijuana dispensary must close up shop — at least temporarily.
“This is a matter that has significant impact on the health of many people and should be very carefully considered. To ask a sick person to have to drive all the way to Sacramento or elsewhere to get medicine is just something that should not be taken lightly,” said Wykowski.
“We’re exploring ways to make medicine available to our patients. We’re in discussions with the city.”