Temecula bars medical pot dispensaries

September 14, 2004

Tim O\'Leary, Press-Enterprise

TEMECULA - A temporary ban on medical marijuana dispensaries was approved by Temecula early Wednesday following a standoff between local advocates and City Councilman Jeff Stone.

The showdown left three medical marijuana advocates grumbling that Stone, a pharmacist whose term as a Riverside County supervisor begins in January, is closed-minded on the issue.

The advocates did not lobby for a dispensary, but instead wanted to educate the council on marijuana's medicinal uses. They volunteered to serve on a committee that would study the issue and return to the council with a recommendation.

Stone countered that marijuana has not been proven effective and that it can be addictive and interact unsafely with alcohol or other drugs.

'We should not allow this type of activity in our city,' he said.

The temporary ban, which would last 45 days but could be extended up to one year, was recommended by city staff members after an inquiry was received on the possible opening of a medical marijuana dispensary in Temecula. Officials requested the ban to give city staff time to study medical marijuana issues and examine the legal conflicts between state and federal laws.

The council agreed to examine the issues, but did not form a committee or invite the medical marijuana advocates to participate in the study.

While federal law prohibits the sale or use of marijuana, California and eight other states permit using marijuana for medical purposes. California voters legalized medical marijuana in 1996, and since then clubs have been formed in several cities to serve patients with a doctor's prescription.

The dispensary inquiry was received July 30 from Compassionate Caregivers, which opened in February 2001 and now operates cannabis clubs in Oakland, San Francisco, West Hollywood and Ukiah. Information provided by the group states that it has 142 employees and more than 7,000 members and serves more than 20,000 medical marijuana patients as far away as San Diego.

No one from the group appeared at the council meeting, and officials did not return messages Tuesday or Wednesday. The issue of whether or how to regulate medical marijuana on a municipal level has rarely been addressed by cities in Riverside County. In March, about a dozen medical marijuana advocates urged Riverside County supervisors to direct law enforcement to stop harassing residents and learn the guidelines established under the 1996 law.

Stone said Wednesday that he will continue to echo his concerns over medical marijuana when he becomes a county supervisor. His reaction dismayed advocates Martin and La Vonne Victor of Temecula, who spoke at the council meeting along with Lanny Swerdlow, director of the Palm Springs-based Marijuana Anti-Prohibition Project and American Harm Reduction Association.

The Victors, who launched a cannabis acceptance project in January at a community forum at the Temecula Public Library, said there is growing use of the drug by area residents who have received a doctor's prescription. Both use marijuana to ease symptoms of medical problems.

Martin Victor said the January meeting attracted about 75 people, about half of whom are medical patients who use marijuana for cancer, AIDS and other serious illnesses. He said about 200 people have expressed an interest in joining their loose-knit group.

'Don't hurt citizens,' he urged the council. 'Think about it. Think. Don't hurt us.'

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