Gardena joins bans on medical marijuana outlets

Gene Maddaus , Daily Breeze (CA)

Weeks after ordering two medical marijuana dispensaries to close, the Gardena City Council imposed a moratorium on such facilities Tuesday night.

Both dispensaries are still fighting City Hall. California Caregivers' Association, on Vermont Avenue, has closed, but its owner has sued the city in an effort to reopen next year.

The other dispensary, Nature's Holistic Caregivers on Crenshaw Boulevard, remains open in defiance of the City Council, which revoked its business license last month.

The council passed the 45-day moratorium with little fanfare on Tuesday night. The temporary ban will give the city's planning staffers time to draft permanent regulations.

Allison Margolin, the attorney for Nature's Holistic Caregivers, argued that it is against the law for the city to forbid marijuana dispensaries from doing business.

"It's illegal and it's a moral crime," she said. "What this would do is put marijuana back on the streets." Though California voters legalized medical marijuana a decade ago, it remains a controlled substance under federal law. As marijuana dispensaries have spread statewide, cities have struggled with the question of how best to regulate them. Several South Bay cities, including Lawndale, Torrance, Hawthorne, Redondo Beach, and Rancho Palos Verdes, have instituted bans similar to the one the Gardena council passed Tuesday night.

Councilman Steve Bradford, who was the lone supporter of the dispensaries last month, dissented from the majority again, as the council voted 4-1 to enact the moratorium.

Virgil Grant, the owner of Nature's Holistic Caregivers, presented 500 signatures from Gardena residents supporting his dispensary.

In an interview, Councilman Oscar Medrano cited concerns that the federal government could withdraw grants if the city allows marijuana dispensaries to operate.

"I will not allow moneys to be taken away from our seniors, our kids, our Meals on Wheels programs," Medrano said. "These are essential programs that are needed to keep the kids off the street." Medrano said he sympathized with medical marijuana patients, but was concerned that marijuana dispensaries are unregulated.

"Let's let a doctor prescribe it in the hospital," he said. "Let it be given in the right way, not in a store where you can walk in off the street."