Sacramento County pot store closes with a flourish -- and a vow to fight back

12/17/2011 12:00 AM

01/17/2012 2:51 PM

Alice Long, a "patient member" of the Magnolia Wellness Center, came to the medical marijuana store one last time Friday to pick up a gram of "Lemon Wreck" for her headaches and a dark chocolate cannabis bar to help her relax.

Boasting what was perhaps Sacramento County's largest registry of medical marijuana users, the Orangevale dispensary was closing with a flourish. Throughout the day, it offered specials that included free grams of marijuana and discounts on "top shelf" cannabis strains.

The only-in-California business closing had customers lined up for hours, and Long and hundreds of her fellow medical marijuana users were feeling anything but mellow.

"It makes me so upset," said the 65-year-old North Highlands woman, who uses cannabis to relieve pain from knee replacement surgery and headaches from a car accident. "They want to call us stoners. But I've taken every kind of 'sick pill' from my doctor. It doesn't work. Vicodin messes up my stomach. And there is too much stuff that is legal that can kill you."

Magnolia Wellness is one of the dozens of medical marijuana stores that have closed up shop in recent months in the face of possible federal prosecution and an aggressive campaign by Sacramento County to cite them for building code and zoning violations. As many as 99 dispensaries had opened in the county over the past two years. With the closure of Magnolia Wellness on Friday, only five are left.

But David Spradlin, a former construction industry contractor who started Magnolia Wellness and even signed up the marijuana store with the Orangevale Chamber of Commerce, said the dispensaries are plotting a comeback.

Spradlin and other medical cannabis advocates announced that they are mounting a petition drive to put a referendum on the November ballot to force Sacramento County to license and regulate dispensaries in the unincorporated area.

"We're going to be putting the will of the people to a vote," said Spradlin. Advocates, he said, are working on an initiative to make the county allow one dispensary for every 50,000 residents – or about 30 marijuana outlets.

On Friday, the will of his medical marijuana clients was on potent display. Scores lined up before the store's 10 a.m. opening. More than 270 had presented their physician's recommendation and picked up their "meds" by 1:30 p.m., and hundreds encircled the building until closing.

William Martin, 22, a theater lighting technician from Citrus Heights who says he uses cannabis – "the only miracle drug, in my opinion" – to treat nausea, lambasted county officials for not understanding.

"It doesn't make any sense," he said before making his way inside for a free gram of "Violator Kush" and to buy some "Hippie O.G." and a pre-rolled joint.

"This is good for the economy. Look at these people," he said, glancing back at the line. "These are not criminals."

Sacramento County officials said dispensaries never were allowed under its zoning laws. The county filed lawsuits and collected more than $90,000 in fines in a long effort to close them down.

Compounding the dispensaries' problems, California's four U.S. attorneys announced enforcement actions in October that targeted some stores for violations of federal marijuana laws and threatened landlords with property seizures. Suddenly, stores began closing en masse.

"The writing was on the wall," said Spradlin. So his dispensary, which employed 25 unionized "bud tenders" and other pot workers, put the word out that it was liquidating its stash of medicine.

Ovidiu Cozac, 40, who has a metal plate in his skull from a motorcycle accident and says marijuana "kills the pain and helps with the stress," voiced disapproval over the large crowd. He suggested it included pot consumers with questionable afflictions.

"It's just amazing that so many people stand in line for a free gram," he said.

Yet as her husband pushed her to the front of the dispensary line in a wheelchair, Sherry Waddell, 40, who uses marijuana for nerve damage and "to keep my bones from seizing up," said: "For me, this is not a party zone.

"I'm here for a medical need," she said. "And I'm really sad they're closing this down."

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