Medical marijuana dispensary in limbo

April 09, 2006

Monica Rodriguez, Ontario Daily Bulletin (CA)

From the moment he opened on Christmas Day, David Touhey wanted to keep his medical marijuana dispensary on San Lorenzo Street low-key.

But the facility's existence became public last week when the City Council was asked to implement a 45-day moratorium on the establishment of medical marijuana dispensaries in Pomona.

Touhey spoke in opposition of the moratorium, arguing that such facilities are permitted under state law. He also noted that he was operating one.

Council members voted 6-1 for the moratorium but allowed Touhey's operation to remain open.

"I've kept it low-key," Touhey said Wednesday. "I don't want to frighten the neighbors."

He added his operation fits in well in the industrial zone where it's located.

In 1996, California voters approved Proposition 215, making it legal for people with a prescription from their doctor to use marijuana for medical purposes.

Yet federal law doesn't permit such a use.

"Some cities have outright denied (the use) on the premise it's not an approved business under federal law," Pomona City Attorney Arnold Alvarez-Glasman said.

Cities have taken a position that they each have a right to regulate such operations, but supporters of medical marijuana use disagree, Alvarez-Glasman said.

While adopting the moratorium, a council majority agreed that out of fairness to Touhey, he should be allowed to continue operating until legal issues are sorted out.

After the vote, some council members noted that the late Mayor Eddie Cortez died of cancer, as did Councilman Marco Robles' first wife and Councilwoman Paula Lantz's daughter. Robles and Lantz both noted the brutal effects of chemotherapy treatments on cancer patients, which marijuana advocates said can be alleviated by the drug.

Mayor Norma Torres was the lone dissenting vote.

Touhey's dispensary is located in an eastern Pomona industrial zone, south of the railroad tracks and near a bus yard, automotive businesses and a storefront church.

His door reads "Farm Assist Ministries." He calls the establishment a "cannabis ministry and caregiver collective" and said it serves eastern Los Angeles County and the Inland Empire.

"Out toward San Bernardino County and Riverside County they have no access at all" to medical marijuana, Touhey said. "People have to drive hours to get their medicine."

The marijuana "helps them have a better quality of life in their last days," he said.

Touhey, who said he is an ordained Universal Life minister, works with 40 people, most of whom are cancer patients.

Only patients with a note from their doctor and a referral can use his services, Touhey said.

He doesn't grow cannabis on-site, and he dispenses a maximum of two ounces at a time. Touhey could distribute up to eight ounces, but limiting the amount ensures the cannabis doesn't fall into the wrong hands, he said.

In January, he made the first of three attempts to secure a business license at Pomona City Hall. Twice he was told that the city doesn't issue licenses for dispensaries. The third time, he spoke with city planners, who told him Pomona was not zoned for dispensaries.

As Touhey sees it, that's no impediment to his dispensary because "it's legal except where it's regulated out."

Just because business licenses aren't issued for a dispensary like his "doesn't mean I can't operate," Touhey said, "or at least that's my take on it."

Matthew Bassi, the city's planning manager, confirmed that Touhey was denied a zoning clearance for the dispensary.

City officials are currently looking into Touhey's operation.

On one hand he's calling himself a ministry, and on another a dispensary, Bassi said.

"We just don't know enough about his business to know what he is," Bassi said.

Police Chief James Lewis said he wasn't aware of Touhey's dispensary or any problems at the site.

Touhey tried to establish his operation in various places including La Puente, City of Industry, Hacienda Heights and Rowland Heights. In most instances local government "adopted ordinances that make my place not fit in," he said.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is expected to consider a proposed ordinance Tuesday that would regulate dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county.

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