Garden Grove halts pot dispensary registration

January 18, 2012

Roxana Kopetman, Orange County Register

Saying they are not a "marijuana-friendly city," the City Council voted this week to suspend the registration of medical marijuana dispensaries.

The decision Tuesday night was prompted by two recent legal developments relating to the sale of medical marijuana, including a federal crackdown on California's pot clinics.

"Moving forward would be like stepping into a mine field, and we just won't take that risk," Councilman Bruce Broadwater said in a news release. "And just to set the record straight: We are not, nor have we ever been, a marijuana-friendly city."

The city has had a ban on the dispensaries since 2008. But by last fall, officials estimated about 30 had opened shop in the city despite the ban. Last August, the Garden Grove council voted to approve a registration process for dispensaries to better monitor them. The existing dispensaries had until Sept. 23 to register. The city received 60 applications, city officials said.

With Tuesday's council vote to halt the process, what happens next is unclear.

"We didn't feel comfortable moving forward with the program we have. We didn't want to be in defiance of court cases and federal action," Susan Emery, the city's community development director, said Thursday. "We're waiting to see how those play out."

Emery was referring to two legal developments that prompted the council's action.

An appellate court last October voided a Long Beach marijuana dispensary law, saying it violated federal law that bans the possession and sale of marijuana. That city's ordinance issued permits based on a lottery system, which the judges said in essence authorized distribution of the drug.

Meanwhile, the federal government also announced a crackdown last October on the sale of medical marijuana. On Wednesday, federal authorities raided two medical marijuana dispensaries in Costa Mesa.

"I think it's a sign of fate how these recent developments are now two new tools we have to help ban rather than permit medical marijuana dispensaries," Garden Grove Mayor Bill Dalton said in a news release.

City officials are "interested in partnering with the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney General's office to reach a lawful and fair solution to medical marijuana dispensaries operating in the city," according to a news release.

Garden Grove is not alone in reviewing the recent legal development, and some communities are using the Long Beach case and the federal crackdown as an excuse to prevent dispensaries in their communities, said Marcus Boyd, of the San Diego chapter of the medical marijuana advocacy group, Americans for Safe Access.

“There are other cities that stand firm and uphold patients’ rights and safe access, and we applaud all the cities that do that,” Boyd said Thursday.

Americans for Safe Access is the largest national member based organizations of patients, medical professionals and others promoting safe and legal access to marijuana for therapeutic use and research, according to its website.

Medical marijuana is allowed in California, where voters approved the use of the drug to treat the ill in 1996. The drug is used by patients suffering from various ailments, including glaucoma and the side effects associated with chemotherapy in cancer patients. But federal law prohibits it and federal prosecutors in recent months have vowed to crack down on the sale of the drug they say often ends in the hands of people who do not need it for medical reasons.

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