Downey wary of medical marijuana clinics

DOWNEY - Downey moved closer to prohibiting medical marijuana dispensaries from operating in the city when the Planning Commission on Wednesday agreed with city administrators that the benefits of marijuana collectives to residents are "far outweighed" by the violent crime that oftentimes besiege the clinics.The Commission unanimously approved a resolution that formally recommends the City Council bar the dispensaries from operating in the city. The City Council, which enacted a moratorium on medical marijuana collectives late last year, is expected to hold a public hearing on the issue in the coming weeks. The moratorium is scheduled to expire Nov. 10. "There is a small minority of residents who may enjoy the benefits [of a medical marijuana dispensary], but the adverse effects far outweigh the benefits," said planning commissioner Robert Kiefer, before the body voted 5-0 for recommendation against the dispensaries. California voters approved the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes in 1996. The state created a voluntary medical marijuana identification card program in 2003 to protect residents from state marijuana laws. Still, commissioner Fernando Vasquez said the city "has a responsibility to our youth to guide them in the right direction." And commissioners Mike Murray and Louis Morales both expressed concern over "lack of regulatory control" and the distribution of medical marijuana. Commissioner Terry Lambrose did not offer an opinion but said "I'm sure the City Council will think this over and come to the right decision." One Downey resident spoke Wednesday in favor of marijuana collectives. He urged the commission to consider the health benefits chronically-ill patients have reported from smoking marijuana. He also dismissed the reports of crime at dispensaries. "How many liquor stores have been robbed?" the man, an admitted marijuana user, said. "The word is 'compassion.' Downey will be known as a city that doesn't care. It's all about our human right to dignity." In issuing a recommendation against marijuana dispensaries, city administrators cited federal law that still makes it illegal to grow, use or possess marijuana. A staff report prepared by community development director Brian Saeki and senior planner David Blumenthal was thick with examples of violent crime at pot dispensaries. The report included newspaper clippings detailing robberies and homicides at dispensaries in neighboring cities. "Besides crimes against persons and property, the operation of medical marijuana dispensaries has been linked to organized criminal activity, money laundering and firearm violations," the report states. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported in June that of California's 481 incorporated cities, 132 have banned such dispensaries. Another 101 have enacted temporary moratoriums. Best, Best & Krieger, before they were fired as the city's law firm, wrote a white paper suggesting Downey had the discretion to either regulate or prohibit medical marijuana clinics. The law firm also warned the city against "adverse secondary impacts" dispensaries could pose. "On balance, any utility to medical marijuana patients in care giving and convenience that marijuana dispensaries may appear to have on the surface is enormously outweighed by a much darker reality that is punctuated by the many adverse secondary effects created by their presence in communities," Best, Best & Krieger wrote. "These drug distribution centers have even proven to be unsafe for their own proprietors." The city of Los Angeles recently approved a restrictive ordinance aimed at corralling the city's estimated 400 medical marijuana dispensaries. Attorneys representing marijuana dispensaries that were given closure notices have said they will sue Los Angeles. Only one medical marijuana dispensary has operated legally in Downey. It closed after the city's moratorium went into effect late last year.

********** Published: September 2, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 20