Ban on pot clinics extended

DOWNEY - In a unanimous decision on Tuesday, the City Council voted to extend its moratorium on the establishment and operation of pot dispensaries in the city, from 45 days to a full year, despite a local dispensary's protest against the decision.Last month, the Council approved a 45-day moratorium in order to provide city officials time to evaluate the legality of medical marijuana dispensaries and draft a new city policy to regulate the facilities. Prior to the Council's vote, Assistant City Attorney Ross Trindle said the temporary ordinance would suspend the operation of the dispensaries until Nov. 10, 2010, giving the city more time to fully study the conflicts that exist between federal and state law regarding the collectives In addition to legal inconsistencies, the city ordinance also cites various studies, which report an increase in burglaries, drug-trafficking and robberies near and around pot dispensaries, a concern that several council members expressed. "I don't deny that it can be used for legitimate problems," said Councilman Roger Brossmer. "But people are taking advantage - marijuana is a very big problem." Herbal Solutions, a Downey dispensary located on 8830 Imperial Highway, triggered the original moratorium after being denied a business license by the city. The dispensary appealed the decision, but their public hearing was suspended indefinitely after the moratorium was enacted. Before the Council voted to extend the moratorium, Mark Adams, the operator of Herbal Solutions, read many letters written by patients requesting that the dispensary remain open. "I have over 100 hardship letters here," said Adams. "I'm not a medical doctor, but I've seen patients with multiple sclerosis, cancer and I realize there is a true need for this. One day it will be realized." Since fracturing her leg last year, Janine Garcia now uses medical marijuana to cope with the severe pain. The 24-year-old Downey resident frequented Herbal Solutions before its closure and now must travel outside the city to pick up the her medication. "I work 12-hour shifts," said Garcia over the phone. "So if I start at 10 a.m., I don't get off until 10 p.m. I either drive to Santa Fe Springs or Paramount - I'm not from those areas and don't like to drive in those areas at night." Garcia said she understood people's safety concerns, but maintains that many residents who need the drug are greatly inconvenienced when they must travel elsewhere to get it. Adams proposed that the city grant his dispensary a provisional license so his nearly 1500 patients could continue receiving medical marijuana and other drugs while the city forms its policy. However, Councilman Mario Guerra agreed with Brossmer, understanding the need for medicinal marijuana, but worried about the potential problems a dispensary could cause. "We care about cancer patients - every citizen in Downey, but I can't get around the abuse problem," said Guerra. "Unless I can be guaranteed of different things, I will continue to be against this in the city of Downey." Both Brossmer and Guerra asked that the city make its decision sooner than later, instead of waiting until the end of next year to adopt a policy on the issue. Adams, who runs dispensaries in Long Beach and Los Angeles, hopes the city will come back quickly with an ordinance. "We want regulation," said Adams. "But education is important - they don't have all the facts."

********** Published: December 18, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 35

Julie Ledesma