H.B. wants to manage medical marijuana

January 28, 2005

Jeff Overley, Orange County Register

Officials here are rolling out a law that would temporarily prohibit the distribution of medical marijuana in the city, a ban they say would be the first in the county.

While no medical marijuana dispensaries exist in Huntington Beach, city staff realized they have no regulations for such facilities when a person six months ago inquired about opening one.

A proposed 45-day moratorium would allow the city to investigate possible restrictions on the facilities, Police Chief Ken Small said.

"If the state has made medical marijuana legal ... I think the issues for the cities (are), 'Where should (dispensaries) be located, what kind of issues should we look at to minimize the impact on the community?'" he said.

No formal application to open a marijuana dispensary is before the city.

The temporary ban, which could be extended to up to one year, also would allow the city to await a decision in a case that is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, City Attorney Jennifer McGrath said.

Californians in 1996 voted to legalize medical marijuana, but the federal government repeatedly has challenged the right of states to pass such laws. A case currently before the Supreme Court, brought by users and growers of medical marijuana, is expected to resolve the dispute.

"What the city would like to do is freeze things in time until we get guidance from courts or voters as to how we are to legally permit (medical distribution of) what is federally considered an illegal drug," McGrath said.

Inquiries by prospective marijuana dispensary operators have spurred at least nine California cities to approve similar moratoriums in recent months.

The most recent was passed Jan. 3 in Grover Beach, a city in San Luis Obispo County.

But adopting temporary bans on the dispensaries when no formal applications are on the table can be premature, said Dale Gieringer, a spokesman for the California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

"We think it's advantageous to have good, well-regulated dispensaries," Gieringer said. "But without any applicants at all in the city, I'm a little puzzled at why they should be pursuing (a moratorium) in the first place."

The law has not yet been presented to the City Council, and specifics have not been released, but Small said it contained language justifying the moratorium on public-safety grounds. Information from other law-enforcement agencies about increased crime in the vicinity of dispensaries is included, the police chief said.

While no bans have been adopted in Orange County, there is at least one medical-marijuana supplier. An Anaheim-based collective known as 420 Primary Caregivers delivers marijuana to ill patients.

Anaheim police Sgt. Rick Martinez said the collective "has not caused any problems" since opening in December.

The moratorium will be presented at the City Council's meeting Feb. 7.

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