Pubdate: Thu, 04 Nov 2010
Source: Acorn, The (Agoura Hills, CA)
Copyright: 2010 J.Bee NP Publishing, Ltd.
Author: Stephanie Bertholdo
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)


While Prop. 19 Loses, Residents Protest Closure of Agoura Hills 
Marijuana Clinic

Residents from the area filled the Agoura Hills City Council chambers
last week to protest the closure of the Conejo Wellness Center, a
medical marijuana dispensary that was shut down by law enforcement on
Oct. 14.

North Hollywood attorney Arthur Hodge, who is representing the Conejo
Wellness Center in a lawsuit to keep the facility open, said the
council ordinance that prohibits medical marijuana facilities in all
business zones of the city was "illegal, unconstitutional and

But city attorney Craig Steele said the ordinance had nothing to do
with the legality of medical marijuana. (The statewide marijuana
proposition failed in Tuesday's election.) The new city regulations
specify that medical marijuana dispensaries that sell the drug for
profit violate Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996.
Prop. 215 was passed to allow people to use cannabis for medical purposes.

Hodge says the center is a nonprofit, that the city ordinance
redefines nonprofit medical marijuana collectives as businesses, and
that city codes cannot conflict with state law.

Hodge claims the ordinance is illegal because state codes require a
full hearing on certain business matters before the planning
commission. He also charged the city with failing to study the issue
in detail.

The closure of the Conejo Wellness Center could have been based on the
members' inability to obtain a proper business permit in 2009. The
city denied the application, saying the request was too vague. Agoura
Hills had outlawed the operation of medical marijuana dispensaries in
all business zones in 2008. The dispensary first opened in 2006.

The city added language to its municipal code to mesh with the Los
Angeles County district attorney's stance that any over-thecounter
sale of marijuana is illegal under state and federal law.

People who use marijuana for medicinal purposes presented their case
before the council.

Kelly Ruotolo, a nurse who lives in Agoura Hills, asked if the council
had conducted any studies to understand how medical marijuana helps
people with a variety of illnesses. "It's important for a lot of
people," she said.

Thousand Oaks resident Lance Ott told the City Council that he was a
cancer survivor and without the use of medical marijuana he wouldn't
be here today. "We're not criminals," Ott said. "We just want safe
access to our medicine."

Bryan Smith of Camarillo said cannabis helps people take fewer
prescription drugs that are potentially more dangerous.

Longtime Agoura resident Paul Culberg, 68, has a degenerative spine
disease. He read a letter to the council about how medical marijuana
was more effective in managing his chronic pain than strong
prescription drugs like Norco and Vicadin. Prescription drugs were
"zombifying," he said.

"I had accessed the cannabis I needed from the black market, which is
both dangerous and filled me with anxiety," Culberg said.

The Conejo Wellness Center was staffed by "experienced people" and not
"punks," he said.

Robin Hynek of Agoura Hills said that the dispensary provided a
"much-needed service." She said the drug helps her with her medical
problems without causing the drowsiness or nausea she experienced when
using prescription drugs.

Wendy Cohn spoke on behalf of her employer, Lynne Merrill, who runs
Merrill Educational Center. Merrill's business is less than 1,000 feet
from the Conejo Wellness Center and Cohn said that a drug dispensary
so close to a school violates the law.

Many of Merrill's clients are concerned with the dispensary's
operation, Cohn said, adding that parents have witnessed drug deals
taking place in a nearby parking lot.

The wellness center's arrival in the building made staff members,
parents and students "feel unsafe," Cohn said. City Councilmember Dan
Kuperberg said the medicinal value of marijuana was not the issue, but
said public safety was at stake. He said people leaving the dispensary
could be robbed or hurt. Surrounding communities do not allow
collectives, he said, adding that he doesn't want Agoura Hills to
become known as the one city in the area where it is legal to obtain

"There needs to be a change in state law," Kuperberg

Councilmember Harry Schwarz said, "It's painful to hear what people
are going through, (but) we're not here to talk about (whether
marijuana should be legal)."

Even if Prop. 19 had passed in the Nov. 2 election and made marijuana
available to all adults, not just the infirmed, the drug remains
illegal under federal law. Prop. 19, similar to the previously approve
Prop. 215, was fraught with procedural problems that made the public
wary about its passage. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake