City puts brakes on pot dispensaries

DOWNEY - In a unanimous decision, the City Council approved a 45-day moratorium on the establishment and operation of medical marijuana dispensaries in the city, hoping the brief pause will give officials ample time to draft and adopt new policies regarding these facilities.The vote comes amidst a conflict between state and federal law over the legality of medical marijuana use and distribution. Currently, medical marijuana dispensaries are prohibited under federal law, but many Californian cities and counties have chosen to heed Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, which authorizes marijuana use for medical conditions. According to the city resolution, 27 cities and counties in California permit medical marijuana dispensaries and have ordinances regulating them. Another 30 have banned the facilities while nearly 62 jurisdictions have moratoriums in place. In order to prevent any adverse public health risks, the City Council approved the resolution so that staff could create regulatory controls for medical marijuana dispensaries while reviewing zoning laws, which currently do not specifically address these facilities. Under the ordinance, health clinics, care facilities, residential elderly homes and hospices are not considered to be medical marijuana dispensaries. City Attorney Edward Lee said the city's moratorium could be extended in the future if approved by 4 or 5 Council members. Mayor Mario Guerra commented that despite the valid use of medical marijuana, a moratorium was needed to properly address the dispensaries. "I'm in favor of it - there needs to be a moratorium," Guerra said. "We need to study and find out as a city what we can legally do." In October, the Obama administration announced that federal agents would not pursue sanctioned suppliers and their patients in the 14 states that allow medicinal marijuana, a significant departure from the Bush administration, which continued to enforce federal anti-pot laws regardless of state codes.

********** Published: November 13, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 30