Norco ban on sales of medical pot on hiatus

November 21, 2006

Andrea Bennett , Daily Bulletin (CA)

NORCO - With the city's 45-day moratorium on marijuana dispensaries now expired, medical marijuana patient advocates are urging city officials to reconsider the issue. Without any restrictions in place against the facilities at present, director of Inland Empire Patient Advocates Ryan Michaels said dispensaries will begin cropping up within city limits to meet the needs of patients already living in the area. 'I foresee there will be safe access for patients in Norco within five to seven days,' said Michaels, who is also a medical marijuana patient. 'With no rules or regulations in place, someone can open their doors and be grandfathered in.' While the city works to create a feasible plan for such dispensaries to present to the council at a future date, City Planner Steve King said Norco will likely extend its moratorium on the facilities at the next council meeting Dec. 6. But until then, Michaels said there is a window of opportunity for dispensaries to open in town. City Attorney John Harper said it is unlikely anyone will be able to set up shop before the next council meeting. 'They would have to go through a process with a business license and it's not a permitted use in any zone within the city as we speak,' Harper said. 'At best, they would have to come to the Planning Commission and show that their business is similar to another business that is permitted. 'And that will take a lot longer than Dec. 6,' he said. Harper said the city is taking the time allotted by the moratorium - which will likely be extended to one year - to study potential uses for such facilities and regulations that would apply to them. California passed the Compassionate Use Act in 1996, which allows marijuana use for medical purposes. In 2004, the Legislature passed the Medical Marijuana Program Act, giving guidelines to patients and caregivers. However, Riverside and San Bernardino counties and some Inland Empire cities have sided with the federal government on the issue, which deems marijuana unlawful. On Oct. 4, Norco joined Claremont, Pomona and Corona in temporarily barring such businesses from opening within city limits. Last week, Upland voted to prohibit such facilities. Judy Thompson, a Corona resident and medical marijuana patient, said she and other patients have become disillusioned with the decisions made by some local city councils. 'I'd just as soon see one open across from the police station,' Thompson said. 'It's just like going to Sav-on. It's a legitimate business and it's about re-educating society.' Harper said the city would have trouble allowing the dispensaries in town, given the disagreement on the issue between the state and federal government. 'Realistically, I don't know how - under the current conflict of law - that's ever going to happen without putting people in the position of violating federal law,' Harper said. Michaels, who says his organization works with at least 3,000 patients throughout Riverside County - about 25 of whom reside in Norco - said he is determined to get a dispensary up and running in Norco immediately. 'I'm collaborating with several other patients to open a collective in Norco,' Michaels said. 'It puts an unnecessary burden on patients to have to travel to other cities. It seems reasonable to have safe access in your own city.' Andrea Bennett can be reached at (909) 483-9347 or by e-mail at andrea.bennett@dailybulletin.com.

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