Medical marijuana dispensary to close down in April

February 20, 2007

Jennifer McLain, Whittier Daily News

HACIENDA HEIGHTS - It's 10:45 a.m. Wednesday, and in 15 minutes the lone medical marijuana dispensary in the area will open for the day.

The dispensary, at 15838 Halliburton Road, is next to a string of Chinese bakeries, restaurants and cafes. It would go unnoticed except for a California Medical Caregivers Association sign hanging from the iron door.

As one patient waits for the facility to open, he sits in his car and flips through High Times, a magazine that caters to the cannabis culture. Another patient steps into the bakery next door and buys several pastries before he shows an armed guard his prescription and license and enters the dispensary.

As of April 30, the facility will close its doors permanently, county officials announced Tuesday, leaving these patients to search for another dispensary to get their prescriptions filled.

Just as some community members and county officials had hoped, the owners of the facility agreed to shutter the dispensary, Supervisor Don Knabe's office said Tuesday.

"As I have said before, this is not about whether medical marijuana is right or wrong - the voters have already answered that question," Knabe said. "What is most critical is ensuring the safety of our children and our neighborhoods."

When the pot club opened in 2005, it sparked an immediate reaction from the county Board of Supervisors, said Chris Fusco, field coordinator for Americans for Safe Access, an Oakland-based medical marijuana advocacy group. At the time, the county did not have an ordinance for marijuana dispensaries.

A moratorium was passed just a few hours after the facility opened in May 2005. A judge ultimately decided the facility would be exempt from any regulation the county adopted, allowing it to continue operations, Fusco said.

In March 2006, the county passed an ordinance that, among other restrictions, prohibited marijuana dispensaries from operating within 1,000feet of schools, churches and libraries.

The California Medical Caregivers Association is within 1,000 feet of Newton Middle School, said Knabe spokesman Aaron Nevarez.

Representatives at the dispensary declined to comment, but Fusco said the owners took the advice of Americans for Safe Access.

"They shouldn't force their way into the community," Fusco said. "They are being a model collective operation" by agreeing to close the facility.

According to police, the pot club has not attracted an unusual number of calls. In the past year, police have responded to the location twice - both times because of security alarms that were later canceled by the alarm company, said Sheriff's Lt. Michael Claus.

Michael Williams, president of the Hacienda Heights Improvement Association, said he and other residents were unhappy with the location of the dispensary.

"They came under the radar and opened the facility," Williams said. "It caught everyone by surprise."

While he sympathizes with some of the patients who use medical marijuana, he said there are more appropriate locations for such a facility.

"The fact that it opened in the middle of a commercial district kind of doesn't make any sense," Williams said.

There are nearly 200 dispensaries in the greater Los Angeles area, although Fusco said that the San Gabriel Valley is greatly under-served.

"This is a loss to the patients in the area, and now they will have to travel greater distances to get safe access," he said.

jennifer.mclain@sgvn.com

(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2477



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