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Whittier to Ban Dispensaries

Another light has gone out in Southern California.

Whittier has now joined the long list of cities, towns and counties that have banned medical marijuana dispensaries. The situation was already bad, but in some place it continues to get worse.

The Whittier City Council voted 4-1 at a special meeting Nov. 19 to ban all dispensaries in the city. They told city staff to come back with a formal ordinance, but it was clear the council will ultimately vote to prohibit pot shops. It’s not clear when the council will act on the issue, but the next meeting is scheduled for Dec. 10.

There are currently no dispensaries in Whittier. The city imposed a moratorium last year after the only pot shop in town, Whittier Collective, was shut down by federal law enforcement.

The city had no problems with Whittier Collective, but the feds indicted the owner, alleging he was part of a trafficking ring. Eleven other dispensary owners were indicted in the same case.

With a one-year moratorium in place, the council began debating how to balance patient needs against their concerns about federal intervention. Staff told them they could ban dispensaries or let the city’s old MMJ ordinance stand in the hopes Whittier won’t attract criminals.

As a third choice, staff told the council members they could allow small collectives to grow pot for their members under strict state controls. No outsiders would be allowed to use the marijuana.

Apparently believing dispensary operators are mostly criminal drug traffickers and fearing any gathering of pot growers will devolve into depravity, the council took the easy way out and started the process of keeping the city free of medical marijuana.

closed dispensaryThat leaves yet another swath of Los Angeles County with no local access to medicinal cannabis. Already, Santa Fe Springs, Norwalk, Downey, Pico Rivera, Montebello, Huntington Park and La Mirada have imposed bans, as has all of unincorporated Los Angeles County, according to Aldo Schindler, director of community development.

Only a few holdouts remain: Los Angeles itself, Malibu and West Hollywood. Long Beach will open its doors to dispensaries soon. In Orange County, Laguna Woods is a rare haven for pot shops.

Whittier’s moratorium will expire on Jan. 24. The city must either adopt a new ordinance by that time or let the old one stand.

California voters approved medical marijuana in 1996, and for a number of years dispensaries were tolerated. But the situation reached critical mass in cities across the state, many of which sought to use zoning rules and other legal maneuvers to keep pot shops out of their limits.

Dispensaries fought back, and the issue reached the state Supreme Court earlier this year – where the municipalities won the right to ban dispensaries if they choose. Hundreds of localities across California have done so, though a handful are reconsidering that approach.

About Matt Brooks

Based in San Francisco, Matt is a journalist who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than five years. He provides regular news coverage on marijuanaandthelaw.com and californiamarijuanamarket.com.

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