Panel OKs on-site pot use

January 18, 2006

Shirley Hsu, San Gabriel Valley Tribune

The first zoning rules on medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated county areas would allow patients to smoke the drug on-site and obtain pipes and vaporizers needed to take the medicine, a county commission decided Wednesday.

If the Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission's action is approved by the Board of Supervisors, the ordinance also would prohibit dispensaries from opening within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, playgrounds, parks and other "sensitive facilities" and require them to have alarms, cameras and a licensed security guard.

The Board of Supervisors is expected to hear the issue in 40 to 50 days.

Medical marijuana advocates applauded the action, saying it would bring legitimacy and provide needed guidelines for dispensaries.

"This is a very good ordinance," said Don Duncan, Southern California coordinator for the medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access. The state does not provide clear state guidelines on how to run dispensaries, he said.

"Some are model operations, while some struggle to meet those standards," he said. "This is a good step towards standardizing them."

Duncan said the county's ordinance is more comprehensive than those passed in some other counties and cities. While he did not think the location limitation was necessary, he said the ordinance is fair.

The law includes guidelines on signs displayed on dispensaries and lighting and graffiti-removal requirements. Hours would be limited from 7a.m. to 8 p.m.

County Supervisor Don Knabe requested the sale of pipes and other paraphernalia and marijuana in edible form be banned because that marijuana could be more easily abused. He asked that the distance between dispensaries and sensitive facilities be increased from the original 600 feet.

Medical marijuana advocates argued edible marijuana is necessary for some patients with lung problems.

The commission decided patients would be allowed to smoke marijuana on-site in a separate room if the dispensary provides adequate ventilation, seating, restrooms and drinking water. Dispensaries would be allowed to provide marijuana in edible form, such as in a brownie.

John Schunhoff, the county's chief of operations of public health, said he was concerned about the implications of allowing marijuana to be eaten on-site.

"We don't want to be in the position of having to regulate (dispensaries) as if they were restaurants or retail markets," he said.

Under the ordinance, existing dispensaries, such as California Medical Caregivers Association in Hacienda Heights, will not have to relocate, but must comply with the other regulations.

One medical marijuana patient said marijuana dispensaries operate somewhat like Moose lodges rather than retail stores, in that patients must be members to enter, and pay monthly dues based on how much marijuana they consume.



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