By Art Cosgrove
Oregon Cannabis Connection
“I’m Cynthia George, I’m the owner/operator of Going Green West at 41 Olalla Rd. and you guys are all real familiar with me.…”
So began Ms. George’s impassioned testimony before the Board of Commissioners on July 19, 2017, in the matter of Going Green’s battle to stay open. As covered previously by OCC in February, the Lincoln County board of Commissioners has been locked in a protracted legal battle with Going Green over their right to operate in the space they currently occupy. On the night of the Board of Commissioners meeting, George was responding to the recent decision unofficially handed down by the judge in her ongoing dispute. After nearly five months of sitting on it, the judge was granting Lincoln County’s February 24th motion for summary judgment.
“Although the judgment has yet to be signed,” said David Moule, attorney for George and Going Green, “the judge advised counsel that he was granting summary judgment to the County to enjoin Cindy George and Going Green West from operating the medical marijuana dispensary. He also ruled their landlord will be enjoined from allowing a dispensary to operate on his property. He did not provide any explanation for his decision, just saying he was granting the motion.” In short, Going Green would be ordered to stop operating a dispensary at that location.
The crux of the case is the county’s contention that the owners of the land the dispensary sits on, which is removed from residential areas in rural Toledo, Oregon, were bound by a 30-year-old agreement to get approval for a business change on the property.
Notable was the fact that one of the commissioners on the board attempting to shut down the dispensary, Douglas Hunt, lives right next door to the location in question.
Last time we talked to George in February, it was just before their first scheduled court appearance and she was optimistic about their chances. Since then, the court date was delayed, a motion for summary judgment was granted and the business is teetering on the edge of oblivion.
“I was ready to appeal it to the court of appeals and ask for a change of venue,” said George about receiving the e-mail from the judge that the judgment was granted. “I went to a sun dance ceremony to deal with the loss of my daughter, and I come home to an eviction notice from the landlord that we’re evicted as of August 10, 2017.” George’s daughter, Angelica Kenney, was killed in a car crash, last November, in Philomath, Oregon. She was only 22. In one bit of uplifting news for the family, Going Green just released a new strain in her honor, called Angie’s Gift.
“I thought we’d get past the summary judgment stage,” said Moule, “A genuine issue of fact needs to be determined; the court is not supposed to grant it.” Moule is referring to both the issue with the land use permit and the conflict-of-interest issue with Commissioner Hunt.
“The judge sat on it for a long time, and if it was so obvious, why couldn’t he rule on it sooner?” Moule added.
The eviction from landlord Craig Kelson came at a critically inopportune time for George and Co.
“It was always the case that the landlord needed to be on board,” said Moule regarding the need to keep Kelson part of the team. For one thing, if the eviction goes through, the other points become more or less moot. It’s irrelevant what the Board of Commissioners will allow if the landlord won’t rent Going Green the space. Fortunately, for the time being, it appears Going Green has received a brief stay of eviction; Kelson cashed the rent check they sent, so they’re not going anywhere for now. But that’s just the beginning of their financial woes.
“If the County has to sue you and you’re violating zoning laws, then attorney’s fees can be awarded,” said Moule. So now Going Green is facing a steep bill from Miller Nash, Graham & Dunn, the pricey outside counsel retained by Lincoln County, in addition to moving expenses and their own legal fees. The appeal of the summary judgment will occur within 30 days, however, it could be a year before it’s decided. During that time, Going Green will be rolling the dice.
“Who knows? It could be trouble,” said Moule of George’s current plan to keep the doors open pending appeal. Essentially Going Green will be operating in the gray area
“Cindy is determined to fight. She’s a stalwart,” says Moule.
George is exhausted but unfazed. “Now where is there justice in that?” she asked incredulously about the idea that summary judgment would be awarded without her getting her day in court.
“I pay myself $800 a month, working my ass off for four years. We built this thing. It was empty when we took over,” said George.
As George prepared to speak on July 19, there was an awkward politeness between her and the commissioners, despite the incredible seriousness and stakes of the issue at hand. She then went on an extended rant, listing off the many reasons she had to be upset and the many ways the commissioners were letting down their constituents in a sometimes rambling speech. The board seemed unmoved by the speech.
“I followed the law from day one. They didn’t. Let them look in the mirror for a while,” said George bitterly. But she wasn’t alone at that meeting. Defenders from within the community were there, too, including Heather Mann, Executive Director of Newport-based Midwater Trawlers Cooperative. Her family lives in Siletz and her husband is a Going Green patient.
“He’s had many doctors happily prescribe him opioids; he chooses to manage his pain with cannabis instead, to avoid becoming addicted to pills,” said Mann in a passionate speech defending their access to cannabis as medicine. “I cannot describe to you the stunning disbelief I have had about your decision to target this business and force them to close.” Mann’s husband has been an OMMP patient of over 15 years.
“There is literally no reason not to keep this business open,” said Mann. She also highlighted the fact that Going Green is all-medical, with no intention of ever going recreational—just another reason she feels the dispensary should be embraced by the community.
George has given her side of things a million times. To reporters, lawyers, friends, family, the Board of Commissioners … but still not the one place she wants.
“I haven’t had one day in court,” said George. “I haven’t been able to stand up and say any of it.”
The other three Going Green locations remain open in Sweet Home, Grande Ronde and Albany.
Video of Cindy George below testifying on July 5, 2017 to the Lincoln County Commissioners. Knowing the likely outcome of their decision, near the end she disrobes before the council, to show that she has “given the shirt off her back” for patients over the past four years: