City Council to hold 2 meetings
Ryan Hagen, Staff Writer
Posted: 06/13/2011 08:23:06 PM PDT

LOMA LINDA – Tired of waiting for courts to provide answers, the City Council today will hold the first of two meetings to ban medical-marijuana dispensaries from the city.

The city has effectively banned dispensaries since 2009, when it passed a moratorium blocking them while officials waited for courts to decide whether a ban was allowed under state law.

In one closely watched case in 2010, Qualified Patients Association v. City of Anaheim, the 4th District Court of Appeal specifically declined to decide whether state law – which allows medical marijuana – prevented cities and counties from banning it, as advocates of medical marijuana argue.

While the same court considers a case between the city of Riverside and Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness that could put those questions to rest, Loma Linda City Attorney Richard Holdaway is recommending that the City Council specifically ban dispensaries before potential loopholes in the moratorium are exploited.

“The City Council takes legislative notice of the fact that several California cities and counties, which have permitted the establishment of medical marijuana distribution facilities or `dispensaries’ have experienced serious adverse impacts associated with and resulting from such uses,” according to a draft of the ordinance prepared by Holdaway.

The council is set to decide tonight whether to schedule a final hearing accepting that language at its next meeting, June 28.

But none of the supposed impacts to health and public safety referenced in the city’s ordinance – or similar bans by 11 counties and 139 cities, including many in San Bernardino County – are backed up by actual statistics, said Lanny Swerdlow, the director of the Inland Empire Anti-Prohibition Project.

“They shouldn’t ban them because, first of all, the voters of the state of California said in (Proposition) 215 they should have access to it,” he said. “It called upon the state to develop affordable access, and (Loma Linda is) trying to overturn the will of the people when communities benefit from relief of advancing years, pain, amnesia.”

He contrasted opponents’ arguments with a study by the Denver Police Department, comparing crime before medical marijuana collectives were established to after. While the city’s crime overall fell 1 percent, areas around collectives saw a 3.1percent drop, according to the study.

Because it is still possible that bans on marijuana dispensaries will be deemed unconstitutional in California, the city would not make it a crime to operate one.

“Enforcement of the ordinance will be done via nuisance action or other methods,” Holdaway said in his report.

The ordinance would treat violations of the ban as a “nuisance,” which according to city code is punishable by up to $50 for the first violation, up to $500 for the fourth violation – or fourth day of operation after being ordered to close – within a year.

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