Medical marijuana policy under fire

April 05, 2005

Naomi Kresge, Ontario Daily Bulletin

ONTARIO - Supporters of medical marijuana asked the city Tuesday night to reconsider the temporary ban it placed recently on cannabis clubs, co-ops and dispensaries.

They asked the City Council to study the needs of patients who use marijuana, decrying the decision as hasty and ill-informed.

'We need medical cannabis to survive. Why this is such a difficult issue is beyond me,' said Linda Lane, of Yucca Valley, who used a crutch to walk and said marijuana helped her recover from a stroke 33 years ago. 'This is a God-given plant.

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Councilman Alan Wapner told the group the city's temporary ban was set so it can study the issue further before setting a permanent rule.

'I feel very comfortable with the decision we made,' said Wapner, comparing marijuana dispensaries to adult businesses, which are legal under state law but which cities may regulate through zoning codes.

Wapner has said in the past that, like adult businesses, he would prefer not to have marijuana dispensaries in the city at all.

The four-person council approved the 45-day moratorium March 15. The move coincided with an apparent trend in cities around the state toward setting temporary bans on marijuana dispensaries.

Marijuana Anti-Prohibition Project Director Larry Swerdlow argued that Ontario went a step too far, however, by banning co-ops as well.

'I don't think they knew what they were doing,' he said, arguing that Senate Bill 420, passed in 2004 to govern medical marijuana, explicitly allows for co-ops and collectives.

The bill, which set up a voluntary ID program for medical marijuana users, states an intent to 'enhance the access of patients and caregivers to medical marijuana through collective, cooperative cultivation projects.'

Swerdlow told the City Council that his group plans to start medical marijuana co-ops around the Inland Empire to give patients help in growing the drug.

Planning Director Jerry Blum said the city is not aware of language in the state law allowing co-ops. He said city staffers are preparing to ask the council to extend the 45-day moratorium to roughly two years.

The conflict between California state law, which allows patients with a prescription to smoke marijuana for medicinal use, and federal law prohibiting the drug will likely get a hearing on a national stage this spring. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on a case brought by medical marijuana patients from Northern California against the federal government.

Blum said the city hopes to see the outcome of the high court case before making a final decision on the dispensaries.

And in the meantime, officials are surveying cities around the state to find out what studies of medical marijuana dispensaries are available.

'(The moratorium is) just until we've made the study,' Blum said. 'It's kind of doing a stop-gap measure to allow us to adequately review the matter until we determine if and where these businesses should be located.'



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