SKIRMISH: They are in battles across the area, where many cities have banned their operation.

12:38 AM PST on Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Press-Enterprise

Jose Avalos, 25, plunked down $35 for 1/8-ounce of a type of marijuana called Purple Killer Kush to relieve his back pain.

The patient, who waited his turn inside Moreno Valley’s fledgling medical marijuana dispensary, said cannabis beats every drug he’s tried.

“This is better than pharmaceuticals,” Avalos said.

The dispensary, called G3 Holistic, Inc. — for Third Generation meds — opened this past November, despite being denied a business license, said president Aaron Sandusky.

A city ordinance bans medical dispensaries. Now, with one up and running, officials say they’re going a step further.

After a police investigation, the city attorney filed a criminal complaint this past week in Riverside Superior Court, according to Michelle Dawson, acting assistant to the city manager. The complaint includes several counts, including hazardous building and fire code violations, in addition to illegal use, she said in an e-mail.

It’s a skirmish that Sandusky is already fighting on another front. Last August, Upland officials shut down three medical marijuana cooperatives, including G3 Holistic, because the city’s zoning ordinance prohibits their operation. An attorney representing the trio has filed a petition for review and an application for a stay with the state Supreme Court in San Francisco.

Dispensaries are locked in similar battles across the Inland area, where many cities and Riverside County have banned medical marijuana storefronts through land-use regulations.

Even so, G3 joins several dispensaries, including one in Temecula, that flout the municipal restrictions and remain open. Temecula city officials say they’re monitoring the self-described “therapeutic cannabis resource center,” but have declined to close it.

The city of Riverside is currently pursuing court injunctions against a number of medical marijuana establishments. However, Sandusky is optimistic that the law is on his side. Last Tuesday an appeals court ruling allowed a banned dispensary in Wildomar to re-open.

Richard Stewart, the mayor of Moreno Valley, said he’s “amazed” that G3 Holistic is operating in the city, but admits he knows little about the dispensary. “No doubt there are legitimate medical concerns, but these places can become a magnet for the wrong kind of people and crime, if not managed right,” he said.

G3 Holistic is tucked between a smoke shop and a dry cleaner and is several doors down from a CVS Pharmacy in a strip mall at 12276 Perris Boulevard. The dispensary falls in the district of City Councilman Jesse Molina, who said: “I’m open minded. If (marijuana) helps with the pain, I have nothing against it, as long as it’s legitimate and not for recreational use.”

Sandusky, who has another medical marijuana facility in Colton, said he’s been open with Moreno Valley officials. He has introduced himself at City Council meetings and unsuccessfully tried to get a business license. He chose Moreno Valley because more than 850 members of his cooperative live in the city.

A security guard always patrols the site. Members of the co-operative cultivate and grow more than 60 different kinds of marijuana, costing anywhere from $10 a gram to $385 an ounce. Non-smokers can eat cannabis in a wide selection of food from brownies to chicken pot pies sold at the dispensary — although consumption of any kind of marijuana is forbidden on the premises.

Dan Forman, 45, the “bud tender” and patient consultant in the backroom dispensary, is an easy talker behind the high wooden bud bar. He can schmooze for hours on the different effects between two basic types of marijuana, indicas and sativas.

Forman, who uses pot to ease pain from bleeding ulcers, listens to patients’ complaints. He then recommends the best strains to treat pain, anxiety, insomnia, nausea or whatever the problem.

Using chopsticks, from big glass jars he plucks out the buds, drops them in small pill containers, pops on a lid, and then staples them in bags. Avalos is part of a steady stream of patients who say they’re turned to pot because drugs made them feel sick, disoriented or even a little crazy.

Terrance Spencer, 46, or Moreno Valley, said he spends $50 to $100 a week to manage back pain. “The indicas relax my body,” he said, opting for one gram of Blue Skunk. “I forget I’m in pain.”

After losing a kidney to cancer, Ralph Sparacino, 53, finds the pain from nerve damage unbearable. “He spends $25 a week for 1/8 ounce of pot. It lasts two weeks, helps manage his pain, calms his fears, increases his appetite and lets him sleep.

“What’s so bad about smoking a little bit of this flower?” he said, inspecting the house indica called Champagne.

Reach Laurie Lucas at 951-368-9569 or