Medical marijuana firm loses business license


A medical marijuana consulting firm with the colorful name Dr. Reefer lost its business license Thursday over suspicions of selling the drug to patients.

It was among the businesses that the Drug Enforcement Administration and Las Vegas police department raided on Sept. 8 without making any arrests.

Dr. Reefer helps patients fill out the required paperwork for legally obtaining medicinal marijuana and also provides a doctor to examine them.

Clark County's business licensing officials suspended the company's license. They said they couldn't give details about their decision because of ongoing state and federal investigations.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada contends that the county trampled on the owners' rights by taking away their livelihood without showing proof of wrongdoing.

"There's no evidence that there was any sale," said Allen Lichtenstein, an ACLU attorney. "It sets the precedent that you don't need evidence; you just need innuendo."

The county could provide no witnesses, Lichtenstein said. In fact, none of the 2,000 patients the firm has advised over the years has ever claimed Dr. Reefer sold marijuana, Lichtenstein said.

A 9-year-old state law allows patients with chronic diseases such as cancer and glaucoma to ingest marijuana with a doctor's approval.

The patient or a caregiver can grow up to seven marijuana plants for treatment, and the patient can possess up to an ounce of the otherwise illegal substance.

However, cannabis cannot be legally bought or sold in Nevada for medicinal purposes.

During the raid, law enforcement officers found less than an ounce of marijuana, which belonged to a worker who had it legally prescribed, Lichtenstein said.

A federal search warrant and the "ongoing investigations" appear to be enough for county officials to presume guilt, said Lichtenstein, who called the prospect "frightening."

"This is a big brouhaha over nothing," said Pierre Werner, who helps his mother and uncle, Reyna and Clyde Barnett, run Dr. Reefer.

Werner said they plan to appeal the decision to the County Commission.

Lichtenstein believes the battle goes to the heart of a citizen's constitutional rights and wants to take the case to a federal appeals court. But Werner said his family probably couldn't afford to pay the legal fees for a federal appeal.

Lichtenstein said he found it nearly impossible for his clients to defend themselves against vague allegations.

In a written statement, William Schoen, a police detective, said undercover officers bought marijuana at Dr. Reefer's office between December 2009 and September 2010.

The Barnetts were asked to prove those sales didn't happen, Lichtenstein said. That's like someone accusing you of speeding sometime in the past year and telling you to show otherwise, he said.

Werner questioned whether the county singled out his family's firm from dozens of similar consultants because Dr. Reefer is high-profile. The business has drawn notoriety for advertising its services with billboards.

Werner served two stints in prison for possession of marijuana with the intent to sell. When he finished his second sentence in 2008, he launched a medical marijuana dispensary in Colorado, where it is lawful to sell the drug to patients with chronic ailments.

But eight months after he set up shop, Colorado passed a law forbidding convicted felons from owning a dispensary, Werner said.

He returned to Las Vegas to help run Dr. Reefer. He plans to move to Arizona, which recently legalized dispensaries.

Werner hopes Nevada follows suit, so patients with grave diseases aren't burdened with having to cultivate plants.

State Sen. Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, has said he plans to introduce a bill in the 2011 session to allow regulated sales to patients.

"It's just ridiculous (that) you would tell a cancer patient to make your own medicine," Werner said.

Contact reporter Scott Wyland at swyland@reviewjournal.com or 702-455-4519.

 

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