Moratorium established on medical marijuana dispensaries

June 27, 2006

Ward Lauren, The Malibu Times (CA)

By a unanimous vote, the City Council on Monday adopted an interim-emergency ordinance to prohibit the formation of medicinal marijuana establishments in the city. "The ordinance is just a moratorium to maintain the status quo," City Attorney Christi Hogin said. "It will not have a direct effect on any existing dispensaries currently operating in Malibu. The moratorium would prohibit the establishment of any new medical marijuana dispensaries... until the [city] staff can come up with some regulations that would control where and under what circumstances they can be created."

In presenting the issue to the council before the vote, Hogin said its origin was in "The Compassionate Use Act of 1996," in which California voters authorized an individual to grow and use marijuana for personal medical purposes on a physician's recommendation. Although the act does not expressly authorize medical marijuana dispensaries, some believe the law implies authorization for dispensaries to operate, Hogin said.

"There are some people who might argue that a medical marijuana dispensary is like a pharmacy," Hogin said. "It is not, because a pharmacy dispenses controlled substances by prescriptions from a doctor."

Stephen Berkowitz, an attorney speaking on behalf of PCH Collective, a medical marijuana dispensary already operating in Malibu, said his client is similar to pharmacies, regulated by the state. He said there were more than 200 such dispensaries in existence.

"Understand what we're dealing with here," Berkowitz said. "A product that is used for the health of people, that relieves chronic pain. For a moratorium to be granted... you are simply further burdening the residents of this city. Remember, this was approved by the voters of this city and this county. There is no evidence that a moratorium should be put in force."

In staff discussion before the vote, Councilmember Pamela Conley Ulich asked if it were true that the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency was "busting these establishments." Hogin said it is true because federal law prohibits them, with the U.S. government taking the position that the distribution and use of marijuana for medicinal purposes violates federal drug laws.

Although the DEA's enforcement efforts have been inexplicably inconsistent, Hogin said, the agency has from time to time raided and shut down some medical marijuana dispensaries in California. And as for the city's action under consideration, "We are not required to have evidence in order to enact a moritorium," she said.

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