Thursday, January 28, 2010

South El Monte cracks door to marijuana dispensary

SOUTH EL MONTE - With Los Angeles slashing the number of medical
marijuana dispensaries allowed in that city, South El Monte took steps
Tuesday to ensure that the displaced businesses don't land here.

The City Council voted unanimously to allow only one marijuana
dispensary in the city of 21,000 people.

"We are only about three square miles, so anything more would be too
many," said Councilman Hector Delgado. "But under proposition 215 we
have to allow it and give people the opportunity to get medical
marijuana."

The new ordinance prohibits marijuana dispensaries within 500 feet of
parks, schools, religious institutions or homes. It also requires a
security guard be on site to ensure people aren't smoking marijuana near
the dispensary, limits the size of signs on site, and prohibits the
dispensary from selling tobacco, pipes or other paraphernalia.

Delgado's compassion for those who use medical marijuana has grown since
the city started debating the issue, he said.

"I really hope this can ease part of their pain, but I am also concerned
about highly regulating these dispensaries," he said. "We don't want
what happened over in LA, such a proliferation."

In the past 10 months, more than 600 dispensaries have opened up in the
city Los Angeles. On Tuesday the council there passed a long-debated
ordinance capping the number of dispensaries at 70, meaning hundreds
will have to close or move.

South El Monte staff had originally suggested the city allow two
dispensaries, but the council reduced the allowance to one.

"We want to make sure we protect our residents," Mayor Louie
Aguiñaga said.

At least two potential dispensaries have already applied to operate in
the city.

The owner of one of them, Daniel Gonzales, Sr., lamented the limitation
to one dispensary.

"It is good to allow patients to have a choice, for cost purposes and
selection purposes. It is like having a Walgreens and a CVS in a city,"
Gonzales said.

Gonzales applied to open his store, San Gabriel Valley Compassionate
Care, at 1718 Potrero Ave.

Besides the number of allowed dispensaries, he had few complaints about
the ordinance and plans to fully comply.

"I've been here six months waiting patiently," he said.

In nearby La Puente, the city council voted earlier this month to allow
six dispensaries in that city â€" more than than any city in the
San Gabriel Valley. La Puente has twice the population of South El Monte
but is only slightly bigger.

Until now, South El Monte had an interim ordinance banning marijuana
dispensaries.

City staff had encouraged the council to act quickly on a permanent
ordinance, citing a proliferation of dispensaries in the county.

According to staff, cities that have unregulated marijuana dispensaries
have seen an "increase in crime, such as burglaries, robberies and sales
of illegal drugs in the areas immediately surrounding such
dispensaries."

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