Riverside medical pot plan blasted

August 06, 2006

Kimberly Trone, Press-Enterprise

Riverside County planners and medical marijuana advocates clashed Monday over what those advocates say is a flawed proposal to allow the operation of marijuana cooperatives in unincorporated communities.

The outburst erupted on the heels of last month's unanimous endorsement by the Planning Commission of land-use guidelines that would prohibit the growing of marijuana plants at cooperatives.

Critics contend the proposal would not be advancing to the supervisors in its present state if county planners had included them in drafting the document.

Planning staff agreed to meet with medical marijuana advocates Monday to hear their input, but the vitriolic discourse ended when about a dozen angry patients and advocates walked out, saying their concerns were falling on deaf ears.

County Supervisor Roy Wilson said Monday by telephone that he had hoped planners would have consulted with medical marijuana users to come up with suitable guidelines prior to it going to the Planning Commission.

The Board of Supervisors, which asked planners to draft land-use rules for marijuana dispensaries, is scheduled to consider the proposal Sept. 12.

"We are insulted. We are outraged. This ordinance should not have happened," said Lanny Swerdlow, a Palm Springs-based advocate for medicinal marijuana.

Swerdlow said the fact that the county proposal requires patients to have a doctor's prescription is a clear indication that planners did not conduct sufficient research into a state law allowing the use of medical marijuana.

Physicians may write prescriptions only for drugs approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration, which does not recognize marijuana as a legal medicine.

Instead, the California law says doctors may provide qualified patients with written recommendations, Swerdlow said.

Among a host of other criticisms, advocates said the ordinance fails to distinguish between a cooperative and a dispensary, which is similar to a store where marijuana may be sold to patients by a third party.

Swerdlow said cooperatives are sites where patients grow a supply of marijuana for their personal consumption. By failing to recognize the difference, he said the county was attempting to defy state law.

Mark Balys, a senior county planner, said he and others are walking a fine line between the 1996 state initiative that allows patients to use marijuana and last year's federal ruling that said medical marijuana use is illegal.

Balys said that before heading to the supervisors, some "tweaks" might need to be made to the draft ordinance, including to the language requiring a prescription.

"But it's not going to be anything close to the demands that were made here today," Balys said.



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