L.A. County blocks pot dispensaries

May 30, 2005

Shirley Hsu, Daily Bulletin

County supervisors on Tuesday blocked medical marijuana dispensaries from opening in unincorporated areas, but that may not stop a Hacienda Heights dispensary from operating.

The 45-day moratorium only applies to new dispensaries, and the Hacienda Heights dispensary opened just before Tuesday, said Don Duncan, a consultant for the dispensary called California Medical Caregivers Association.

'They're open and registering members,' he said. 'I think this will be a big benefit to residents of Los Angeles County, and I think people recognize the need for a place like this,' he said.

Supervisor Don Knabe moved to pass the emergency ordinance after two groups contacted the county with plans to open dispensaries, one in Hacienda Heights and the other in Rowland Heights.

The county is investigating whether the Hacienda Heights dispensary is actually open or not, Knabe said.

Officials who visited the site said it looked closed, and that as of last week, the dispensary reported no patients, Knabe said.

'I am absolutely outraged,' he said. 'If they told us they were willing to work with us, then rushed to open prior to the moratorium, that would be disingenuous.'

Prior to Tuesday, the county had no ordinances dealing with dispensaries in its unincorporated communities. While state law permits seriously sick patients with cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, and other illnesses to use the drug, it doesn't outline specifics about how to distribute it. More than 120 dispensaries have opened statewide since Proposition 215 passed in 1996.

Knabe said he feared that unregulated dispensaries could become magnets for crime and illegal drug dealing, and that the region could 'become inundated' with marijuana dispensaries like West Hollywood has, he said. The moratorium will buy the county time to create zoning regulations for dispensaries.

'Had we not (passed an ordinance), someone could be up and operating, and we might not even know it,' said Knabe, adding that ideally the drug should be distributed through pharmacies.

Many Hacienda Heights residents are concerned about the location of the dispensary next to two schools.

Stephen Lee, principal of Newton Middle School that is less than a mile from the dispensary, said he has 'strong reservations and concerns and questions about the need to have a facility like that in a bedroom community such as Hacienda Heights, where there are lots of young children.'

CMCA organizers said they are willing to address the community's concerns at the next Hacienda Heights Improvement Association meeting, to be held at 7 p.m., June 20, at the Hacienda-La Puente School District board room, 15959 E. Gale Ave., Industry.

People misunderstand the nature of the business, said David Nam, director of CMCA.

Only members with a doctor's recommendation can access the medication, and the dispensary will have security guards to make sure patients follow the rules and don't smoke on site, said Nam, a Rowland Heights resident.

At least 30 cities and counties statewide have passed moratoriums on marijuana dispensaries, and four cities have permanently banned dispensaries, according to Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group.

Shirley Hsu can be reached at (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2306, or by e-mail at shirley.hsu@sgvn.com .

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