11:21 PM PST on Monday, December 20, 2010

By ALICIA ROBINSON
The Press-Enterprise

A Riverside medical marijuana collective will be open to serve customers today, after an appeals court on Monday ruled the facility can operate while the city’s lawsuit to close it proceeds.

A lower court judge had granted an injunction to close the Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center but stayed the order so the facility’s attorney could appeal.

The state Fourth District Court of Appeal continued the stay while it considers the case.

“Everybody’s excited that we can continue to facilitate safe access” for medical marijuana patients as allowed by state law, said William Sump, the health and wellness center’s general manager.

During business hours Monday, he said, “It was very stressful awaiting the outcome” from the court.

The center opened in December 2009. It is a collective open only to members, who must have a valid doctor’s recommendation for marijuana. Sump said it has about 6,000 members, mostly from around Riverside County.

The center is also the first facility to be targeted with legal action by the city of Riverside. City officials say marijuana dispensaries are not allowed by the zoning code, and the city is seeking to shut down all such facilities.

In November, Superior Court Judge John D. Molloy agreed that the city is within its rights to use zoning to ban medical marijuana facilities, and he granted the injunction to close the health and wellness center.

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