Fontana staff: Ban pot dispensaries, for now

March 20, 2007

Michael Mello, Press-Enterprise (CA)

Saying there's a local need, medical-marijuana advocates recently approached Fontana's Department of Community Development with questions about what city codes said concerning the operation of dispensaries.

The answer from the staff was simple: nothing.

But the inquiry spurred department officials to ask that the City Council consider an urgency ordinance that would temporarily prevent dispensaries from opening in the city while the city's staff studies whether they should be allowed.

"We want to come up with the best public policy we can," said Don Williams, the city's community development director.

While California voters approved use of the drug for medicinal purposes a decade ago, federal law still makes marijuana a substance illegal to use or possess.

"We need to study what the implications are of supporting the state law when clearly the federal law does not allow (that)," Williams said. "There are some issues that need to be contemplated before we allow them."

Helping Hands

Shawn Tizabi, of Helping Hands Collective Caregivers, approached the city in early February with his sister and business partner, Shermin Tizabi.

Both said they want to work with the city to open a dispensary and were surprised at talk of a moratorium.

"If you look within the Inland Empire, there is not one operating legally," Shawn Tizabi said, though Fontana has a high number of patients with marijuana prescriptions.

He and his sister want to run a dispensary by the book, he said, adding, "We will not open our doors unless we get the support of the city."

Williams has asked the City Council to enact a 45-day moratorium on dispensaries. The council must approve the ordinance with a four-fifths vote for it to take effect immediately. Normally, an ordinance takes effect 30 days after council approval.

"We'd like to have some time to discuss this dispassionately and then make a recommendation to the council" whether the dispensaries should be allowed, Williams said.

Police Chief Larry Clark said the situation needs serious study, and his department won't make a recommendation on a permanent ordinance until that study is done.

'A Rock and a Hard Place'

As law enforcement, "you're caught between a rock and a hard place" regarding medical marijuana, Clark said. "You open (a dispensary), and the feds come in and shut it down."

The discrepancy between state and federal law opens up other problems. For example, Clark said, if an officer arrests someone for possessing marijuana, the judge could find that person had the drug legally under California law and order the officer to return the marijuana to the defendant.

"If you look at the law, the judge is asking the officer to commit a felony" under federal law, Clark said.

If Fontana bans dispensaries, it would force patients with marijuana prescriptions to buy and use the drug illegally, Shawn Tizabi said.

"We're providing a safe facility for patients of medical marijuana," he said.

If the city OKs the dispensary, Shawn Tizabi said, each patient would get marijuana only with a prescription and only under the supervision of Shermin Tizabi, a registered nurse.

"At that point, we take their prescription and call the doctor. If we can't contact their doctor, they don't get their prescription filled -- and that's each visit," he said.

The Tizabis said they helped run a cooperative in northern Santa Barbara County until their partnership with other parties dissolved last fall.

Corona, Temecula, Norco and Lake Elsinore have banned dispensaries.

In early February, Desert Hot Springs enacted a temporary moratorium similar to the one Fontana has proposed.

Reach Michael Mello at 909-806-3056 or mmello@PE.com



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