Pot center stays - for now

June 14, 2006

Mike Sprague, San Gabriel Valley Tribune

Whittier's only medical marijuana dispensary has won a temporary reprieve from a city proposal that would have required it to shut down within two years.

Whittier City Council members this week put off setting a deadline for the closure of the Whittier Collective until staffers can complete a report on how much the dispensary's organizers have invested in the group's location.

The dispensary, which operates from a nondescript space in a medical office complex on Washington Boulevard, slid in under the city's radar, so to speak, opening before council members could adopt formal zoning regulations in January for such businesses.

That left the city to weigh what to do with the Whittier Collective.

On Tuesday, Whittier City Attorney Richard Jones proposed granting the collective one year to stay in business, along with a possible one-year extension - if its organizers could show a hardship.

But that approach could open up the city to possible legal action, Councilman Bob Henderson said.

"Why put yourself in a position to get legally challenged? I don't see any urgency in this at all," Henderson said.

"We need something legally defensible. Why not find out the facts? It should take an accountant 20 minutes to figure out the amortization required."

Gregory Silver, an attorney for the Whittier Collective, said Jones' proposal would be unfair to his clients, who have spent between $50,000 to $100,000 on improvements to their location.

The expenditures have included the installation of a sophisticated security system with cameras, Silver said.

The group also has an active three-year lease not due to expire until October 2008, with an option for another seven years, Silver said.

"It has to be a reasonable period of time to recoup the up-front costs," Silver said of the city's proposed one-year deadline. "You're putting a lawful tenant in a position where it's obligated to pay rent and not being able to conduct business."

Although he agreed with Henderson's motion to grant staff more time to research the matter, Councilman Greg Nordbak suggested giving the Whittier Collective one year, plus an extension through Oct. 31, 2008, to run concurrently with its lease.

Councilwoman Cathy Warner said she is concerned about the presence of the collective at its current site, near a job-training center for teens and young adults.

"I'm a substitute teacher ... and the students know the business across the street and they know the nature of its business," Warner said.

Medical marijuana dispensaries have been legal under state law since 1996, when California voters passed Proposition 215 allowing marijuana to be used for medical purposes.

However, under federal law, marijuana remains illegal to possess and use.

mike.sprague@sgvn.com



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