Monday, April 11, 2011

Whittier city officials consider cap of one on medical marijuana dispensaries

By Mike Sprague, Staff Writer

Posted: 04/07/2011 05:39:51 PM PDT

WHITTIER - The city's only legal medical marijuana dispensary may become a monopoly of one.

Concerned about a potential influx of such facilities, city officials have proposed a cap of one on the number allowed in Whittier.

The amendment to the zoning ordinance - recommended Monday on a 5-0 vote by the Planning Commission - is expected to go to the City Council at its May 10 meeting.

Assistant City Manager Jeff Collier said the cap of one was based on the small number of Whittier residents holding state-authorized medical marijuana cards. It's only 22.

"We're providing the number of businesses necessary to serve that particular constituent base," Collier said.

"We don't need an influx of these throughout our city," he said. "We're accommodating the use but we're not going beyond what's is necessary to serve (Whittier) residents."

The proposed new law would allow for a second medical marijuana dispensary if the owner could demonstrate through documented evidence there is "compelling need and demand for a second facility to serve residents of the city of Whittier only."

Robert Ortiz, director of the Whittier Hope Collective, the dispensary that opened in July of 2010, said he was surprised to hear about the proposed law.

"It's obvious (city officials) feel that's what the city needs," Ortiz said. "I can't say that I'm really more excited or not excited."

Ortiz, whose group has about 2,500 patients, said he doesn't believe the law creates a monopoly.

"There are other options for patients, the most important of which is home cultivation," he said.

In addition, there are other dispensaries in nearby Santa Fe Springs, he said.

Bill Britt, executive director for the Association of Patient Advocates, criticized the potential action.

"I can't think of anything as un-American as that," Britt said.

"No other business is restricted like that. Patients will suffer," he said. "How many pharmacies are there in the city? How many liquor stores are there?"

Britt also said to base a law on the number of patient cards is misleading.

"Everybody's afraid to the get the cards," he said. "Plus it costs $75, just if you're on Medi-Cal. And that's on top of getting the doctor's letter."

Britt said he believes that 10 percent of any city most likely uses marijuana for medical reasons.

562-698-0955, ext. 3022

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