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Torrance Council Rejects Medical Marijuana Shops

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California
02 Aug 2006

by Ian Hanigan,
Torrance business licenses will no longer be granted to medical marijuana dispensaries -- or any establishments that breach federal law, a unanimous City Council ruled Tuesday night.
In doing so, Torrance becomes the first South Bay city to declare co-ops, which provide medicinal pot for specific ailments, unwelcome within its boundaries.
Though about 20 medical marijuana supporters spoke out against the ordinance and urged the council to simply regulate local dispensaries, council members said most residents did not want these facilities in their community.
"Most people in favor of this aren't from Torrance," Councilman Tom Brewer said. "Most people opposed are from Torrance."
Mayor Frank Scotto said he received numerous phone calls about the issue, and almost all of the people he talked to encouraged the ordinance's adoption.
"I think Torrance is a community that we don't want this type of activity," Scotto said.
But what remained unclear even after the 6-0 vote -- which drew some jeers from the audience -- was how the new ordinance would impact the only marijuana dispensary already here.
The Green Cross of Torrance has been operating from a nondescript storefront on Hawthorne Boulevard since April 20. City leaders have said existing businesses will have to affirm that they are in compliance with federal law before their licenses are renewed, which happens at the end of the year.
On July 18, the Torrance council first took a vote on the proposal. But with Councilman Paul Nowatka out of the country and another seat vacant, proponents didn't have the four votes needed to officially adopt the new ordinance. That night, council members Pat McIntyre and Bill Sutherland voted against it.
Nowatka asked to bring the recommendation back when he returned.
City officials have insisted that the ordinance was not written for the sole purpose of preventing the arrival of cannabis dispensaries. But they say it was the Green Cross of Torrance that sparked the movement.
On Tuesday night, supporters who spoke out in favor of the local dispensary -- and of marijuana's attributes in general -- heavily outnumbered those who spoke out against it.
One woman in a wheelchair said the drug helped her cope with multiple sclerosis and severe lower-back arthritis. A man with AIDS said marijuana blunted symptoms including vomiting and retching. A self-proclaimed Republican and business owner said it treated his asthma, anxiety and high blood pressure.
Josh Shriber, 27, of Redondo Beach said he never smoked pot before a high school football injury that resulted in a coma, a stroke and about 10 different surgeries.
He said medical marijuana provided relief without the side effects of Vicodin and Valium.
"Since then, ( marijuana ) has helped me wonderfully," Shriber said.
Amanda Brazel, a spokeswoman for the group Americans for Safe Access, made her second appearance before the council and urged leaders to make sure those who were hurting have a close, safe way to seek relief.
"We don't want to put these patients on a street corner hoping to find a dealer," she said.
But others were equally adamant about not wanting a dispensary in town.
"I just don't want to see drugs in our city for whatever reason," said Spencer Chan, 59, of Torrance.
Local activist Newton Young said he didn't believe marijuana had any real medical value.
"If you don't approve this ordinance," he said, "how many of these dispensaries are going to pop up all over Torrance like mushrooms?"
With the passage of Proposition 215 in 1996, California is one of about a dozen states that allow doctors to recommend marijuana for specific medical conditions, including cancer, anorexia, chronic pain and AIDS.
But the federal government, which does not recognize any medical benefits associated with marijuana, prohibits both its use and possession.
 

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