More medical marijuana hearings wanted

August 20, 2006

Kimberly Trone, Press Enterprisew

A proposal to regulate medical marijuana cooperatives in Riverside County could be heading back to the Planning Commission for an overhaul.

Michael Harrod, a senior planner for the county, said he would ask the Board of Supervisors next Tuesday to return the proposal to the Planning Commission.

If the supervisors agree, Harrod said the commission would re-open a public hearing Sept. 13 in La Quinta to "allow for full public participation."

The commission in July unanimously endorsed the proposal, which would allow cooperatives to operate with a special permit in commercial office and retail zones.

Medical marijuana advocates later blasted the county plan saying it was poorly researched.

They said it would wrongly prohibit the sale of edible marijuana products and prohibit growing marijuana at cooperatives, which they contend is allowed under state law.

They say county planners have confused a cooperative with a dispensary, which is a location where patients may safely purchase medical marijuana.

Medical marijuana advocates such as Lanny Swerdlow, of Palm Springs, also point to language in the proposed ordinance that requires patients to have a "prescription" as evidence the plan was ill-conceived.

Doctors may write only recommendations for the use of medical marijuana.

Planning Commissioner John Snell said Monday that he was not surprised the rules could come back for more debate.

"We are going to work out something that is fair for everybody, which means nobody gets everything they want," Snell said.

Dorothy Carlson, 45, of Riverside, said officials need to stop looking at marijuana patients as "pot heads looking for loopholes in the law."

"I have always taken a strong stance against drugs. That's why I understand where the Board of Supervisors is coming from. What they don't understand is there is a big difference between recreational and medicinal use," Carlson said.

Carlson said she uses small amounts of marijuana to relieve nerve pain from a back injury that was caused by a drunken driver.

Officials in cities across the county also have been wrestling with ways to regulate or restrict the operation of medical marijuana dispensaries.

Last week a Riverside Superior Court Commissioner tossed out a request from the city of Corona to issue a temporary restraining order against the Healing Nations Collective, a dispensary.

In December, the Riverside County health department began processing applications for state-issued medical marijuana identification cards.

The cards are optional, but could protect patients and caregivers from arrest and prosecution by identifying them to law enforcement officials.

Patients and caregivers still may be prosecuted under federal laws, however.

About 250 cards have been issued to qualified patients in Riverside County.

Reach Kimberly Trone at 951-368-9456 or ktrone@PE.com



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