The Hill is feeling mellow on marijuana dispensary

September 23, 2006

Nick Green , Daily Breeze

Torrance, Redondo Beach, Hawthorne, Lawndale and even Hermosa Beach have enacted permanent or temporary bans on medical marijuana dispensaries in recent months.

But old money Palos Verdes Estates, among the most conservative communities in the South Bay, is pretty mellow about its lone, low-key dispensary.

On Tuesday, the City Council is scheduled to discuss enacting tighter regulations on -- but not ban outright -- medical marijuana dispensaries at a public hearing.


"We're pretty liberal folks up here -- we're progressives," City Manager Jim Hendrickson said. "The approach we've taken is to regulate it rather than prohibit it.

"My perception is (the mayor and deputy mayor) are cognizant of and respectful of the expressed will of the voters. If it is the democratically expressed will of the voters of the state of California, they've indicated that's what they will respect at this point."

California voters approved the use of medical marijuana in 1996, although it remains illegal under federal law.

Mayor John Flood could not be reached for comment.

Restrictions under a proposed ordinance include requiring medical marijuana dispensaries to hire a security guard, limiting their hours of operation and banning the use of any drugs on premises and the sale of drug paraphernalia.

The ordinance would allow such dispensaries to operate as long as they received a conditional use permit. Such permits are used to regulate businesses such as bars or fitness centers "that may create significant impacts to a community such as noise and traffic."

The ordinance is aimed at the Palos Verdes Collective, which has operated virtually unnoticed since April out of a tiny second-floor office in a Lunada Bay strip mall.

A small sign on the ground floor indicates its existence, while a sign on its plain brown interior door simply reads "Collective."

The dispensary, which applied for and received a business license for "alternative medical supplies," serves about 185 patients who have a physician's prescription and California ID, owner Harold Cronin said.

He runs it with his wife, Janet, and a staff of volunteers.

Even local police were unaware of wdispensary until August when a police officer noticed a young man acting as if he was trying to conceal something.

He was -- a joint.

But he also showed the officer a legitimate card indicating he was a medical marijuana patient.

"We haven't gotten any specific complaints or noticed any unusual activity at this point," Hendrickson said.

Cronin, who was unaware of the City Council's pending action, said he was "leery" of the new regulations.

"We keep a really low profile; I'm worried about causing a scene," said Cronin, as he sat in the dispensary's modest waiting room equipped with five chairs, two potted plants and a prominent "no smoking sign."

"I want us to be accepted," he added. "I think (marijuana) is a lot less damaging to people than some of the medications they take for pain. There's a lot less side effects -- the patients are a lot happier."

Cronin, a 54-year-old former truck driver who said he grew up on The Hill, uses medical marijuana for his hepatitis C. He said he started the dispensary tucked among multimillion-dollar homes precisely because patients often feel intimidated going to rougher areas where such establishments have traditionally been located.

Most of the patients who come to the dispensary are from the South Bay and a higher proportion than usual are women, perhaps because of the less intimidating setting, he said.

The dispensary neither buys marijuana "from outside" nor sells it.

Patients receive marijuana by donating money -- selling marijuana remains illegal in the state -- with a $65 donation good for an eighth of an ounce of the best grade stuff.

But patients without money may also receive so-called "welfare weed" for free, Cronin said.

Patients are required to sign a strict code of conduct that bans the reselling of marijuana, are not permitted to smoke anything on the premises and the dispensary does not provide it to anyone under the age of 21.

The latter restriction was added after a couple of local residents voiced concerns minors could get their hands on the stuff, Cronin said.

Whether the Palos Verdes Collective can comply with the tougher regulations proposed by the city is unclear.

It does not, for instance, employ a security guard.

But Janet Cronin and her husband said they are committed to operating the dispensary.

"I was able to get off morphine myself with the help of medical marijuana," she said, adding that she suffers from acute pain. "I firmly believe in what I'm doing."

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