Cities Debate Dilemma Of Medical Pot


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Oct 22, 2005
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26 Sep 2006

MONTEREY PARK - California voters decided in 1996 to give people suffering from HIV, cancer and glaucoma the legal right to smoke marijuana as a way to ease the side effects of certain medicines and treat some ailments.

Ten years later, state and federal authorities are still at odds over whether medical marijuana can legally be prescribed. Stuck in the cross hairs are the cities and counties that are struggling to implement Proposition 215 without running afoul of the federal guidelines.

Monterey Park is the latest to execute a temporary ban on medical marijuana dispensaries, following Monrovia, La Mirada and El Monte. Pasadena recently adopted a permanent ban.

Chris Jeffers, Monterey Park's city manager, said officials felt compelled to take action after receiving phone calls from an unidentified group "asking what are the regulations for a cannabis club in your city."

A moratorium, he said, will give the city time to come up with a permanent solution.

"We're going to look at what some other cities are doing and we're also going to try to make sense of the legal dilemma that certainly appears with the federal law and state state law conflict," Jeffers said.

Of the roughly 150 dispensaries in California, only one is in the San Gabriel Valley: the California Medical Caregivers Association in Hacienda Heights.

The dispensary fought its own battle to set up shop. As an unincorporated county area, the Board of Supervisors has control over its laws.

In May 2005, the supervisors adopted a moratorium that stopped the club from dispensing medical marijuana, and later got a court order to prevent the club from selling marijuana to patients.

However, in July 2005, the dispensary won the right to sell marijuana when a judge refused a county request for an injunction, even though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the same week that federal authorities can prosecute growers and those who use marijuana even with a prescription.

"There had been many moratoriums around the state because every set of officials has had to consider how they want to proceed," said William Dolphin, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, the nation's largest medical marijuana advocacy group. "We hope they are moving toward an important community-based, compassionate solution for patients."

Dolphin estimated 71 cities in the state have established temporary bans on cannabis dispensaries. While officials at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said the dispensary in Hacienda Heights is not a major problem, the members of the Hacienda Heights Improvement Association say it hurts the neighborhood.

Michael J. Williams, president of the HHIA board, said the association would like to see the dispensary on Halliburton Road go away.

"This one slipped by the county. This was not on their radar screen," Williams said. "We feel it is not a positive thing in our community, and we feel it's brought a lot of problems."

Williams alleges the dispensary attracts an "element you don't want in your community," but acknowledges he has no statistical proof of such activity. Monterey Park Councilman Mike Eng said the moratorium, which on Wednesday was extended from 45 days to at least 10 months, was needed to sift through complex legal questions and competing community concerns.

"It is a very sensitive issue because is a controlled substance," Eng said. "The local cities are the front-line test case for these situations.

He added: "It's really unfair to everyone because the law should be a policy that's clearly understood and clearly enforced."

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