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HB Council Takes up Medical Marijuana Ban on Monday


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Surf City could join the increasing number of cities in Southern California that prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries.

The council will vote Monday on an ordinance that bans the dispensaries from opening in the city. Huntington Beach is one of several cities that in the last several years has shied away from an 11-year-old law enacted by voters that allows medical marijuana dispensaries to open and operate in the state.

Huntington has no medical marijuana dispensaries. The closest legal medical marijuana dispensaries are located in Los Angeles.

Mayor Gil Coerper said he believes there are better alternatives than medical marijuana to ease the pain of illnesses. He said medical marijuana dispensaries can promote violence.

"We don't need this situation here in Huntington Beach ... to be subjected to unnecessary violence," Coerper said.

Council members would be taking the "easy way out" if they opt to vote in the ordinance, said Marla James, who said she has smoked medical marijuana for about the last four years to ease the pain associated with her illnesses.

"It is a lot easier to ban something than it is to regulate it," said James, 46, of Huntington Beach.

The City Council voted in 2005 to permit medical marijuana dispensaries in specified locations to comply with the state's Compassionate Use Act, which allowed people to use medical marijuana in California.

At the time, a U.S. Supreme Court decision was pending on the state act's relationship to the Federal Controlled Substances Act. In June of that year, the court upheld the federal act.

A month after the City Council voted to permit medical marijuana dispensaries, Coerper asked the council to reverse the city's law.

At the Nov. 5 City Council meeting, Huntington Beach police Chief Kenneth Small gave a slide presentation on what he said were the dangers of medical marijuana dispensaries.

"Almost every city in California is trying to take action against medical marijuana dispensaries," Small said at the meeting. "There's a huge amount of cash ... and huge amount of marijuana and this attracts crime."

A handful of people spoke against the ban. They said the council should try to regulate dispensaries instead of banning them.

"It's really bad because right now there's like no place for these people to go in Orange County," James said. "They have to go to a place where it's underground... which could be unsafe."

Monday's council vote comes after a September decision by the Planning Commission that the city become consistent with federal law, which considers medical marijuana dispensaries illegal.

Councilwoman Debbie Cook voted Nov. 5 against introducing the ordinance. She said she doesn't know whether the city would be able to regulate medical marijuana but can sympathize with those who use medical marijuana for medicinal purposes.

"I don't think people want the government to treat something like marijuana differently than it treats other (prescribed) drugs,'' Cook said. "If it has benefits it should be available to people.''

Still, she said the situation has become something of a "free for all" because it's not regulated.

"Clearly, the state government and federal government need to get involved -- the federal government primarily," Cook said. "They're the ones who have dropped the ball on this."

Source: Orange County Register, The (CA)
Copyright: 2007 The Orange County Register
Contact: letters@ocregister.com
Website: The Orange County Register
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