Riverside County bans new marijuana dispensaries

August 22, 2005

Mike Cruz, Daily Bulletin (Inland Valley, CA)

About a half-dozen people who say they live with excruciating pain or debilitating illnesses implored the Riverside County Board of Supervisors to reject an ordinance Tuesday banning new medical marijuana dispensaries in the county.

The board approved the measure after a public hearing.

The ordinance, critics said, effectively criminalizes medical marijuana users' ability to obtain the drug, despite Proposition 215 passed by voters in 1996 allowing for such activities.

"I made a conscious decision years ago to do away with pharmaceutical drugs," said Tony Terry, of Desert Hot Springs. Terry suffered spinal cord and head injuries in a traffic accident years ago, and now he also has hepatitis C, he said at the meeting.

After hearing the objections from marijuana users, a Riverside County doctor and representatives of two medical marijuana organizations, the board passed the ordinance, voting 4-0 to create an indefinite moratorium on the establishment of medical marijuana dispensaries.

Although the use of medical marijuana has not cured Terry, he said, the drug has provided him with a good quality of life that he fears could now be in jeopardy.

"Passing this ordinance will make me a criminal," Terry told the supervisors.

Supervisor John Tavaglione, who sponsored the ordinance, said the county's efforts were not directly pointed at marijuana. Instead, the ordinance is a way for the county to gain control of where marijuana dispensaries are, if and when they are allowed in the county.

Tavaglione compared medical marijuana dispensaries to locations that sell alcohol and explained that the county controls how and where retailers, bars and restaurants can sell it.

Supervisor Bob Buster equated the ordinance to a similar move to control tobacco sales in the county.

"(The ordinance) is to put proper regulations in place," Tavaglione said. "It's only to give the county time to establish adequate land use regulations."

Supervisor Jeff Stone was more skeptical about medical marijuana and quarreled with Don Duncan, executive director of Los Angeles Patients and Caregivers Group, during the meeting.

Stone spoke of alternatives to marijuana, the need for a pharmacist or medical expert to dispense marijuana, as well as the need for more research and education.

"Just because a drug is natural does not mean it cannot be used to the detriment of a patient," Stone said, calling for more regulation.

Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation sent a letter to the Board of Supervisors stating that the definition of a medical marijuana dispensary any facility where marijuana is made available for medical purposes according to the state's Health and Safety Code is overly broad.

The ordinance creates the blanket prohibition of an activity permitted by state law and could be subject to legal challenge, the ACLU asserted.


Mike Cruz can be reached at (909) 792-5628.

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