City aims to prohibit medicinal marijuana dispensaries

December 14, 2006

Kyle Jorrey, Simi Valley Acorn

Simi Valley could soon become the first city in Ventura County to ban medical marijuana dispensaries.

Introduced at Monday’s City Council meeting as a first reading, the proposed ordinance prohibits the facilities—made possible in 1996 by the voterapproved Compassionate Use Act—on the basis of two assertions: they are in violation of federal law, and they lead to increased crime.

City attorney David Hirsch, the author of the ordinance, said a decision had to be made concerning medical marijuana dispensaries because a February 2005 moratorium on such facilities was set to expire after two years.

That moratorium was established after an individual inquired about opening a medical marijuana dispensary in Simi Valley. Since the moratorium was enacted, two more such requests have been made, Hirsch said.

Given the opportunity to ban or regulate the use of such facilities, the city attorney turned to existing studies and the recommendation of the police department and returned to the council Monday with an ordinance that would prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries within city limits.

“There are two issues that create concerns: one is the fact that the use of marijuana, period, violates federal law,” Hirsch said. “And the city’s policy, under government code, is only to adopt ordinances that are consistent with both state and federal law.

“In addition, it’s been demonstrated by studies like the one from the city of El Cerrito that these dispensaries, these storefront facilities, create increases in crime and adversely affect businesses in their vicinity.”

To conduct its report, the El Cerrito Police Department contacted law enforcement agencies in 25 cities, 11 counties and two unincorporated towns in California where medical marijuana dispensaries are currently located. Their findings, Hirsch said, are that dispensaries lead to more instances of marijuana use by minors and those without a real medical need, as well as other crimes.

Medical marijuana dispensaries are currently banned in 43 California cities and allowed in 27 of them, including Los Angeles. In addition, 71 cities in California, including Oxnard and Moorpark in Ventura County, have moratoriums on the dispensaries.

Hirsch contends that dispensaries—as they are currently being operated—are not protected under Proposition 215 or its 2004 amendment, Senate Bill 420.

“A lot of city attorneys—and I am one of them—don’t believe there is anything in those statutes that creates the ability to operate these storefront dispensaries that popped up everywhere,” Hirsch said. “Advocacy groups like the Americans for Safe Access would disagree . . . however, there is really nothing in those laws that speak to dispensaries. They talk about coops, about caregivers and patients, but they don’t make any reference to these dispensaries that operate largely as commercial facilities.”

When looking at California cities that have had moratoriums on the issue of medical marijuana dispensaries, Hirsch said the trend is towards prohibition, not regulation.

“Between February 2006 and now, the number of cities having bans has increased from 15 to 43. The number of cities permitting has gone from 23 to 27 in that same time period,” Hirsch noted.

Mayor Paul Miller said the city of Simi Valley wants to stay out of the ongoing fight between the federal government and the state of California over its legalization of medical marijuana use.

Two months ago, federal agents raided a dispensary in Granada Hills in the San Fernando Valley, which has more than 50 such dispensaries listed on the California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law’s website.

“We’re not going to put ourselves as a city between the state and the Feds,” Miller said.

When asked if imposing a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries was going against the will of the voters, Miller said no.

“I don’t know about voters around the state, but my sense is the people of Simi Valley wouldn’t appreciate (having a medical marijuana dispensary), and that’s my constituency,” Miller said. “At this week’s meeting, there was no one there to oppose (the proposed ban), so my thinking is the citizens of the city don’t have a problem with it.”

Councilmember Michelle Foster also interpreted a lack of feedback from the community as proof that citizens in Simi Valley don’t have a problem with the ban.

“I get a sense from our community that public safety is very, very important to them,” Foster said. “And my understanding is that when you have these types of facilities in the community there is a proven amount of crime that goes along with them, and that is not consistent with the needs and wants of our residents.”

The second and final reading of the proposed ordinance is set for the next City Council meeting, scheduled for Monday, Dec 18. The community is invited to attend.

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