Protesters ask Garden Grove to keep pot dispensaries open

May 09, 2012

Roxana Kopetman, Orange County Register

Outside the Civic Center, supporters of medical marijuana waving signs were greeted with repeated loud, honking sounds of approval from passing motorists. Inside the council chambers, the reception was a silent one.

More than two dozen supporters of medical marijuana arrived Tuesday evening to stage a demonstration before addressing the City Council about the city's recent talks with federal authorities on a possible crackdown on the pot clinics.

"Let the DEA know to stay out of Garden Grove," Richard Gould told the council.

Local resident Brooke James, 32, asked the council to "continue to allow us safe access here in Garden Grove."

Marla James, director of Orange County Americans for Safe Access, said her group wants to work cooperatively with Garden Grove officials. James suggested Garden Grove could emulate an initiative proposed for the Santa Ana ballot: a measure that would establish certain guidelines and impose a 2 percent sales tax to benefit the city's general fund.

Residents from throughout Orange County and Long Beach who came to show their support for medical marijuana said in interviews that they face serious medical conditions alleviated by the use of marijuana.

Michelle Nowak, 27, of Huntington Beach, said she has been on pain killers since she was 10 but stopped taking them two months ago when she switched to medical marijuana. Becka Bears, 25, of Costa Mesa, said she is an Air Force veteran who lives with arthritis pain that is relieved the same way. Madeleine Johnson, 63, is a Long Beach resident with osteoarthritis, said she can now work and walk and function thanks to edibles with marijuana.

"I've seen how medical marijuana has prolonged many people's lives," Johnson, who heads a group called Committee of Patients, said prior to the council meeting.

Like many other communities in California, Garden Grove has been struggling with the contradiction between federal law, which bans marijuana, and state law, which has allowed the medical use of the hemp plant since voters approved it in 1996.

About four years ago, Garden Grove banned medical marijuana dispensaries. But they opened nonetheless. In June of last year, the City Council passed an emergency ordinance requiring all dispensaries in the city to register. The idea was to regulate the dispensaries and determine where they would be allowed to open, pushing them away from schools and other sensitive areas into more industrial zoning.

But the issue got more complicated when a number of lawsuits were filed across the southland and federal officials announced a crackdown on California's pot clinics. In January, Garden Grove officials suspended any further registration. That same month, federal officials raided and closed down dispensaries in Costa Mesa following requests from officials in that city for the federal agents' help.

How many dispensaries have opened in Garden Grove is not clear. Police Chief Kevin Raney has said he believes the number is approximately 60. At a previous council meeting, a number of residents complained that was too many. The clinics, they said, are creating problems.

A couple of council members indicated Tuesday night they believe the number of clinics to be closer to 90.

At the end of the meeting, after the medical marijuana supporters had left, council members expressed varying degrees of tolerance toward the dispensaries.

Councilman Kris Beard said the city was heading in the right direction with the registration of clinics and the move to zone them away from schools and homes. A definitive answer on how the city should proceed won't come, he said, until the courts make their final decisions.

Councilman Bruce Broadwater called the clinics "a farce" that cater to young people and not the truly ill.

"I certainly don't want to be the marijuana capital of Orange County or the United States," he said. "I think it's despicable what's being done."

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