Medical marijuana voted down in Ontario

March 14, 2005

Naomi Kresge, Daily Bulletin

ONTARIO - For now, cannabis clinics, co-ops and clubs looking to sell medicinal marijuana will have to go elsewhere.

The City Council placed a temporary moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries in a 4-0 vote Tuesday night. The vote writes the drug into the city's zoning code for the first time as the U.S. Supreme Court weighs the clashing federal and state laws that govern its medicinal use.

The ordinance, which needed an assenting vote from all four council members to pass, was approved without debate.

Councilman Alan Wapner said he had requested the code change after hearing from city officials in Northern California of problems surrounding marijuana dispensaries.

'I want to be proactive,' Wapner said after the meeting.

According to a report from the city of Huntington Beach, which passed its own temporary moratorium in February, problems near medical marijuana clinics elsewhere have ranged from complaints about customers who 'look like drug users' to robbery, public drug use and solicitation of sex.

In Oakland, according to the report, at least one dispensary had an on-site doctor willing to give recommendations for a fee.

In Hayward, according to the report, a dispensary sold hashish along with marijuana. And in Fairfax, the report said, one person bought marijuana at a dispensary and then attempted to trade it to a minor for sex at a nearby park.

With the passage of Proposition 215 in 1996, California voters made it legal for patients with a prescription to smoke marijuana for medicinal use.

Federal law prohibits the drug, however, and after the Supreme Court ruled against medical marijuana dispensaries in 2001, federal agents raided California dispensaries as well. The Supreme Court is expected to rule this spring on the discrepancy between federal and state law.

City staffers said the 45-day ban, which may be extended up to about two years, will give the city time to await the high court ruling and formulate a long-term policy.

Ontario has never received a formal application for a marijuana dispensary, said Jerry Blum, the city's planning director.

An unidentified person did call the city Friday -- after the issue had already been put on the city's Tuesday agenda -- to inquire about the possibility, Blum said.

Wapner said he would prefer that marijuana dispensaries not be allowed in the city at all.

'It's like adult businesses. I'd just as rather not have them,' he said.

By passing its temporary ban, Ontario joins a growing group of cities taking steps to keep clinics out.

Most are in Northern California. According to Blum, Rocklin and San Rafael passed an outright prohibition, while Fresno, Emoryville, Galt, Woodland, Stockton and San Luis Obispo are among those to pass temporary bans.

In Southern California, Temecula banned the dispensaries, while Huntington Beach passed a 30-day moratorium and Pasadena will likely consider a ban at its meeting Monday.

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