Yucaipa puts hold on medical pot

June 03, 2007

Andrew Edwards, San Bernardino Sun (CA)

YUCAIPA - Add another town to the list of Inland Empire locales where officials are saying "no" to medicinal marijuana.

At least for now.

"It's a holding pattern. We didn't say we're against using marijuana for medical purposes," Mayor Dick Riddell said.

The City Council adopted a temporary ordinance to ban medical-marijuana dispensaries Wednesday. The new law's life span is limited to 45 days, but the council can vote to extend the moratorium.

The Yucaipa ordinance follows a similar decision made in Fontana, where a moratorium was adopted in April. Claremont, Pomona and Rancho Cucamonga have also taken temporary measures to block marijuana dispensaries.

Medical marijuana is permanently prohibited in Grand Terrace, Upland, Montclair and Ontario.

City Hall staffers in Redlands are working on an ordinance to prohibit marijuana dispensaries, Mayor Jon Harrison said.

In Yucaipa, no one has yet asked city staffers how to go about establishing a medical-marijuana dispensary, according to an analysis prepared for council members.

Riddell said Yucaipa's moratorium is needed because cities are stuck with having to craft a medical cannabis policy while in the middle of a serious conflict between state and federal law.

Yucaipa officials want to wait until Sacramento and Washington "get their act together" and resolve the conflict before the city adopts a permanent policy, Riddell said.

State voters passed Proposition 215, the ballot initiative that allows medical marijuana, in 1996. However, the federal Controlled Substances Act makes it illegal to sell the drug.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that marijuana dispensaries could not legally sell medical cannabis, according to Yucaipa's analysis of marijuana laws. In 2005, the Supreme Court held that California law cannot trump federal marijuana prohibitions. However, justices stopped short of striking down Proposition 215.

Americans for Safe Access, a group that supports medical marijuana, argues that medical cannabis can be beneficial for patients dealing with AIDS, glaucoma, cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and chronic pain. For example, the group contends that marijuana can help cancer patients reduce the nausea that is often a side effect of chemotherapy.

The Drug Enforcement Administration maintains that THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, can be legally used by patients who take a pill called Marinol. The DEA also takes the position that smoking marijuana is unsafe. Although tobacco is legal for personal use, no federally approved medication is smoked.

The DEA also makes the case that dispensaries are often used by drug traffickers who use Proposition 215 as a cover for illegal activity.

Chris Fusco, the Los Angeles County field coordinator for Americans for Safe Access, said patients can use marijuana without smoking it.

Fusco also observed that the local trend for short-term prohibitions on dispensaries is for cities to wind up taking long-term positions that are more in line with federal law than Proposition 215.

"As far as the moratoria in the Inland Empire, we find them turning into de facto bans," he said.

Contact writer Andrew Edwards at (909) 335-9520 or via e-mail at andrew.edwards@sbsun.com.



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