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The waiting room area at Tree of Life in Livermore, Calif., photographed on Wednesday, Feb, 19, 2014. Livermore city officials are taking steps to shut down what they are calling an illegal medicinal marijuana dispensary that has been open and operating for more than a month. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)

LIVERMORE -- Despite a city law prohibiting medical marijuana dispensaries, a busy storefront pot shop has been operating here for more than a month, distributing marijuana to those with valid doctor recommendations.

City officials say the Tree of Life is violating city code and is taking steps to shut it down, but business representatives say they're within the law.

The only storefront marijuana dispensary in the Tri-Valley, Tree of Life opened in January off Isabel Avenue and Interstate 580. Livermore passed its ordinance banning medical marijuana dispensaries in 2007, which remains in the current city code.

Tree of Life's attorney, Mitch Abdallah, said the facility considers itself a nonprofit "collective" in compliance with rules set by the state attorney general. He said he's researching Livermore's ordinance, which does have exemptions for clinics, hospices and other health care facilities.

"Right now, we're in the process of finding out if we qualify as a clinic," Abdallah said. "As far as we're concerned, we haven't violated the law ... We're just trying to match the licensing with the code."

Livermore's acting city attorney. Jason Alcala, says the dispensary didn't apply for a permit. Tree of Life's application for a business license describes it as a retail shop selling "tobacco and accessories," essentially a smoke shop.


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"We were unaware they were coming in under this kind of use," Alcala said, adding that city officials learned Tree of Life was operating as a dispensary from a flier, and code enforcement officers hit Tree of Life with a compliance order Jan. 23.

Enforcement officers returned Feb. 12, along with police, to tour the facility. They issued a citation Feb. 14 that carries a $100 fine. The fine could increase with more violations.

Livermore police are also looking into whether the facility qualifies for exemptions in the state's medical marijuana law as a collective or co-op. Livermore police spokesman Officer Steve Goard said the purpose of the query is to ensure police are within their legal authority to act if needed.

"It's so touchy," Goard said. "You just want to make sure you're interpreting the law correctly. You don't want to do anything to violate anybody's rights."

Even if it's determined Tree of Life does qualify as a collective, Alcala said it would still be barred from doing selling in Livermore.

"They don't have the land use" approval, Alcala said. "They're breaking bad; they're dealing drugs out of a storefront."

Alcala said the city will follow up with another inspection to see if the facility is continuing to operate as a dispensary. Code enforcement could issue another citation, and if unsuccessful in forcing the business out, the city could seek a court injunction to shut it down.

Abdallah said Tree of Life would challenge any legal action.

"We want to be a pioneer that shows whatever medicine is distributed can be done so safely and securely," he said. "There's a big need for it. We want to be transparent about it and do it legally."

Tri-Valley towns Danville, Dublin, and Pleasanton have similar laws in effect.

Contact Jeremy Thomas at 925-847-2184. Follow him at Twitter.com/jet_bang.