Medical pot sites OK'd for county

May 09, 2006

Allison Hewitt, Copley News Service

Medical marijuana dispensaries will be allowed in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County beginning June 9 under an ordinance that gained final approval Tuesday from the county Board of Supervisors.

In a separate vote, the supervisors gave themselves the final say in approving locations for the dispensaries and expanded the number of residents who will be notified of a proposed facility, changes that raise the cost of a site permit substantially.

Supervisor Don Knabe, who pushed for the change, explained that the higher bar for approval creates greater opportunity for residents to have more input.

Paradoxically, the approval process is also likely to be quicker than the less-stringent alternative, said Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who has been a strong supporter of medical marijuana. However, the still-lengthy permitting process means it will likely take more than a year for any dispensaries to be approved in unincorporated areas such as Lennox, Athens, Del Aire, Marina del Rey, La Rambla and Rancho Dominguez, according to county officials.

The supervisors also gave tentative approval to a system of fees under which dispensaries will pay $2,254 for a business license and $213 for an annual renewal fee. County-issued identification cards will be developed that medical marijuana users would use to prove to police that they are in possession of marijuana legally.

Supporters were pleased that, after a lengthy moratorium prohibiting new dispensaries in unincorporated areas, the supervisors enacted the new policy.

"This is a positive step forward," said Amanda Brazel, the Los Angeles County field coordinator for Americans for Safe Access and a medical marijuana patient. With the long application process, "it will take longer for dispensaries to open, but at least they will get to open and help patients," she said.

Opponents said they were concerned that the new law, which allows patients to smoke on site, will result in people driving home while high on the drug. Nancy Logan, a Manhattan Beach resident who lost her husband and was severely injured in a car wreck caused by a driver high on drugs, said she had hoped the supervisors would extend the moratorium.

"I'm concerned about drugged driving," she said.

Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who opposed the medical marijuana ordinance, agreed.

"This is opening a Pandora's box," he said. "To locate these facilities in residential areas where individuals are able to access marijuana, there are no controls over their ability to leave the facility and drive on the highways, and I consider it a health and safety issue."


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