Moratorium no more? Fourth medical marijuana collective files suit against city |

Moratorium no more? Fourth medical marijuana collective files suit against city

Adam Jensen
Adam Jensen / Tahoe Daily TribuneMountain Collective owner Chris Ziegler discusses a legal challenge he filed against the city's emergency moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries at the former Sunshine Inn on Tuesday. Ziegler hopes Mountain Collective will become the "anchor tenant" at the site if the challenge is successful.

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – After more than a year of back and forth with the city, the owner of a medical marijuana collective in South Lake Tahoe is ready to let the courts decide who can legally provide cannabis at the South Shore.

On Monday, Mountain Collective owner Chris Ziegler filed suit against South Lake Tahoe over a November 2009 emergency moratorium on new medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.

The suit challenges the legality of the moratorium as well as how it was applied to Mountain Collective.

Ziegler contends the collective should have been granted an exemption to the moratorium along with three medical marijuana dispensaries the city allowed to continue operating after determining they were “established operations.”

“The City’s actions have been arbitrary and capricious, and have operated to discriminate against Mountain Collective as compared to other Collectives with which it is similarly situated,” said Jacqueline Mittelstadt, attorney for Mountain Collective, in the suit. Mittelstadt previously served as South Lake Tahoe’s city attorney.

In the suit, Mittelstadt also argues Mountain Collective met all of the requirements to be considered an “established operation” that “were in its control” and the city failed to follow proper legal procedure during an appeal by Ziegler.

During a Tuesday interview, Ziegler said he began operation of the medical marijuana collective out of his Bijou area home in the summer of 2009, and said he has made repeated efforts to work with the city to do so legally.

He said the city has consistently delayed his attempts to work within a legal framework and has never given him a clear answer about whether he could operate.

“We could really do this right, and that’s what’s frustrating,” Ziegler said Tuesday.

City officials told Ziegler he would face legal action if he opened a collective in South Lake Tahoe shortly before establishing the moratorium, Mittelstadt said in the suit.

“Mere months later, the City adopted an ordinance which ‘recognized’ collectives that had been, according to the City, operating illegally,” Mittelstadt said. “But, because Mountain Collective actually heeded the City’s threats and did not engage in full scale operations, the City refused to similarly recognize it. Apparently it was not operating ‘illegally enough’ or ‘established enough’ to be recognized under the new Moratorium. Application of the law has been inconsistent and arbitrary at best, discriminatory at worst.”

City spokeswoman Nancy Kerry said the city has not yet seen the suit and declined comment Tuesday.

City officials have previously said Mountain Collective did meet the city’s requirements to be exempt from the moratorium.

Former Assistant City Manager Rick Angelocci denied Ziegler’s initial application for an exemption in January 2009. Former City Manager David Jinkens later upheld Angelocci’s decision following an appeal by Ziegler.

A July 16 letter from City Attorney Patrick Enright to then City Manager David Jinkens questions whether Ziegler was operating a dispensary prior to a Nov. 1, 2009 deadline for an exemption required by the moratorium.

In October, Angelocci said Ziegler’s application for an exemption was denied because Ziegler did not have an active permit with the city and was operating the collective out of his home.

The collective has been “in limbo” during struggles with the city, Ziegler said.

He envisions Mountain Collective becoming an the anchor tenant in an “Eco Center” located at the former Sunshine Inn building. Environmentally friendly hotel rooms, electric bike rentals and community produce gardens are also planned for the site, Ziegler said.

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