Bill would ban marijuana shops near homes

May 05, 2011

Doug Irving, Orange County Register

A state senator from Orange County is pushing a bill that would outlaw medical-marijuana dispensaries near homes – written with a recent battle in one Anaheim neighborhood very much in mind.

The bill would forbid dispensaries from opening within 600 feet of any homes or residential zones. It would also clear the way for cities or counties to enact even stricter restrictions.

Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, authored the bill after a dispensary opened on a residential cul-de-sac in Anaheim earlier this year. Neighborhood protests and a police investigation helped drive the shop out last month.

"We really had a conflict, a major clash," Correa said.

His bill is one of at least five authored by state lawmakers this year to refine California's medical-marijuana rules. One seeks to better tax medical marijuana; another would prohibit employers from discriminating against qualified medical-marijuana users.

Those bills, written 15 years after Californians first allowed medical-marijuana sales, underscore the explosive growth of the industry. Trade magazines and websites list dozens of dispensaries in cities here and across the state.

Last year, the state legislature prohibited dispensaries from opening within 600 feet of schools. Correa's bill would follow that, requiring that same buffer zone -- about the length of two football fields -- between a dispensary and any homes.

It would also allow cities or counties to trump that buffer zone with their own local requirements – which could be stricter or softer than the 600-foot rule.

The bill was sponsored by Anaheim, which has sent council members and staff to Sacramento to describe the experience on Chestnut Street. The dispensary that opened there was on the ground floor of a two-story building – beneath a family's apartment.

"Our residents have legitimate concerns," Councilwoman Kris Murray said. "They want to raise their families in safe, clean environments."

Marla James uses medical marijuana for the rheumatoid arthritis in her fingers and the phantom pains in the left leg she lost to diabetes. She's the Orange County president of Americans for Safe Access, and she agreed that people should have a say before dispensaries open in their neighborhoods.

But she said cities should handle dispensaries the way they do liquor stores – by notifying neighbors, giving them time to register their concerns, and taking what they say into account. "It should be up to the neighborhood," she said, "not up to a nanny state."

The Senate's Public Safety Committee endorsed Correa's bill earlier this week. But it still has to wind its way through more committee hearings before it would approach a vote of the full senate.

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