Marijuana moratorium OK'd

March 08, 2006

Debbie Pfeiffer, San Gabriel Valley Tribune

Fearing Pico Rivera could get caught with no regulations in place for medical marijuana dispensaries, the City Council has unanimously moved to put a temporary ban on any such facilities until it can establish rules for them.

Already, the city has received several inquiries from parties interested in opening medical marijuana collectives, said City Manager Chuck Fuentes.

Officials said they wanted to avoid a repeat of what happened three years ago, when an all-nude strip club opened for business within a small shopping center on Slauson Avenue that is near a McDonald's restaurant, a school and a neighborhood of homes.

At the time, the city's zoning ordinances governing adult businesses prohibited strip clubs from opening anywhere in Pico Rivera except in areas zoned for commercial and manufacturing uses.

City officials moved to shut down the club, but the owners of Imperial Showgirls sued Pico Rivera and won, arguing that the 23-year-old zoning restrictions were outdated and provided no place in the city where a strip club could open.

"We want to be on more solid ground this time," Fuentes said Wednesday, "with a zoning ordinance in place so can only open in certain parts of the city."

The council also is following the lead of Whittier's council, which approved an ordinance in January that allows medical marijuana dispensaries but only in commercial and industrial zones, Pico Rivera City Councilman Ron Beilke said.

Before approving the ordinance, the Whittier council adopted a moratorium on the dispensaries while the city's attorney and planning staffers worked out details of the new regulations.

"Given that Whittier has already walked this path, we want to do the same," Beilke said.

However, in Whittier's case, its ordinance was adopted after a medical marijuana collective already had moved into a medical center, without the city's knowledge. Because of that, the city had no choice but to allow the Whittier Collective to continue operating in the medical center location.

Increasingly, smaller cities are finding themselves caught between the proverbial rock and hard place, having to choose whether to observe a state law that allows marijuana to be used for medical reasons - and with a doctor's prescription - and federal law that makes its possession and use illegal.

Some cities that have banned marijuana dispensaries based on federal law have found themselves facing lawsuits.

Fuentes said, as far as he knows, no marijuana dispensaries now exist in Pico Rivera. According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws' Web site, dispensaries exist in Whittier, Hacienda Heights, Long Beach and Anaheim, but there are none in Pico Rivera.

With Tuesday's directive from the council, officials now have 45 days to come up with zoning rules and other regulations for marijuana dispensaries.

But Bill Britt, a member of the Whittier Collective and executive director of the Association of Patient Advocates, said the council's action showed no compassion for patients who rely on marijuana for pain relief. "It seems like a last-ditch effort so they don't have to comply with state law," he said. "They know if they did an out-and-out ban, they could be sued."

debbie.pfeiffer@sgvn.com

(562) 698-0955, Ext. 3028



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