10:00 PM PDT on Thursday, June 23, 2011

By DARRELL R. SANTSCHI
The Press-Enterprise

A ban on medical marijuana dispensaries in Loma Linda may become permanent law by the end of July.

The City Council voted last week to give first-reading approval to the ordinance and is expected to take up second-reading approval Tuesday night. If approved at that time, the ordinance would be effective 30 days later.

A moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries has been in place in Loma Linda since 2009, when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of a court case brought by San Bernardino and San Diego counties. That case challenged the voter-passed initiative in 1996 that allows Californians to use marijuana for medicinal purposes if the drug is prescribed by a physician.

The temporary ban, city officials said at the time, was to allow time for court challenges to be decided and for city planners to research zoning law applications.

City Attorney Richard Holdaway told council members in a memo that technically, medical marijuana dispensaries are not permitted because Loma Linda’s zoning law assumes any land use not specifically permitted is prohibited.

Holdaway cautioned, however, that medical marijuana dispensary operators might contend they are operating as a pharmacy, medical office or some retail use in order to skirt the law. He said passage of the ordinance would prevent that.

Lanny Swerdlow, a nurse and medical marijuana advocate who has helped organize campaigns on behalf of medical marijuana patients in Loma Linda and other Inland communities, urged the council not to enact the ban.

“I don’t expect you to change your minds,” he told council members. But he contended that a report from the California Police Chiefs Association quoted in the proposed ordinance was not based on valid statistics, but rather on anecdotal evidence. The report suggests that cities where dispensaries have opened have had “adverse impacts and effects.”

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