Don Austin gave the City Council 1,042 reasons for his opposition to legalizing medical marijuana dispensaries in town — the students at Laguna Beach High School where he is the principal.
Austin was among the school district officials and parents who persuaded the council Tuesday to vote unanimously in favor of two ordinance amendments that combine to prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries or collectives within the city’s borders. The Planning Commission recommended the prohibition.
“I am very conflicted about this,” Councilwoman Verna Rollinger said. “When I first heard about [the dispensaries] I thought, of course we will have them in town.”
Rollinger recently experienced end-of-life issues with two family members and questioned whether their last days would have been easier with marijuana rather than the massive doses of morphine that failed to ease the pain.
Marijuana has long been touted for easing the effects of cancer treatments, but the difficulty in preventing the abuse of the marijuana providers by young people or pushers outweighed Rollinger’s compassion for the ill.
Jim Hursh, founder of a nonprofit, 21-member collective looking for a location, cited his wife’s debilitating migraines eased by marijuana as an example of the benefits of the dispensaries.
“We have three daughters, and we understand the reasons for the concern of the community,” Hursh said. “However, people like my wife and many others with various ailments desperately need a venue that is safe, secure and regulated to obtain the medication so that she can continue to be a productive member of society.”
Mayor Kelly Boyd reported reading an ad in a local paper offering free delivery of medical marijuana.
“I don’t see any reason to have dispensaries in Laguna, now or in the future,” Boyd said.
Support for the dispensaries was also voiced by Scott Monte, president of Evergreen Health Alliance, who wanted to open his first dispensary in Laguna, and Sheridan Linehan, who told planning commissioners in May that he would like to open two cooperatives in Laguna. Both men supported the sale or sharing of “edibles” seasoned with marijuana if the council had approved the dispensaries.
“My grandfather got cancer, and we helped him to get medical marijuana,” Sheridan said. “It was tremendously helpful in the last months of his life. He had never used marijuana and he didn’t want to smoke. We got him lollipops and other edibles.”
Edibles include the suckers, cookies and pizza, all inviting to children, which concerned planning commissioners
“Commissioner [Anne] Johnson was not in favor of edibles because people can cook using their own recipes,” staff Planning Manager Ann Larson said.
The dispensaries were officially opposed by the Laguna Beach Unified School District and individual members of the administration and the board.
Thurston Middle School Principal Joanne Culverhouse said children look to adults as role models and dispensaries send mixed messages to young people coping with the complications of maturing.
While parents might assume that the age group at Thurston is too young to be involved in the use or sale of marijuana, they would be wrong, Culverhouse said.
“There was a 10-year-old who brought marijuana to school and sold it,” Culverhouse said. “I have 676 students and as an administrator, I am strongly opposed to dispensaries.”
Austin has to deal with students who are old enough to be eligible for services offered by the dispensaries.
“During this school year, we will have 216 18-year-old students,” Austin said. “This equates to over 20 percent of the population of our school. Each of the 216 students would be eligible for a physician’s recommendation for medical marijuana.
“Drugs from these facilities have undeniably been illegally distributed on our campus when a previous Laguna Beach collective was in place.”
Scott Monte said newcomers to the field of dispensing medical marijuana really want to do the right thing and serve people.
“We have talked to residents who don’t like going to Dana Point’s illegal [establishments],” Monte said.
There are no legal dispensaries in Dana Point. Lake Forest, which does not have an ordinance banning the dispensaries, has initiated action against operators in its city limits, according to Planning Commissioner Norm Grossman.
Laguna Woods is the only South County community that allows the establishment of dispensaries.
“However, none were in operation because no one would rent to them,” Grossman said.
The right to use medical marijuana has been legal in California since Proposition 215 was passed in 1996 and later refined in the Medical Marijuana Program to include a statewide identification card system for qualified patients.
Terms of the program allow caregivers and one to three of their qualified patients to collectively or cooperatively cultivate marijuana for medical purposes. The city’s prohibition of dispensaries does not infringe on that right, Deputy City Atty. Robert Pittman said.
A staff report advised commission and council that dispensaries are not mentioned in the program and nothing in Proposition 215 or the program authorizes collectives, cooperatives or individuals to profit from the sale or distribution of marijuana or by-products.
The Planning Commission recommendation, given preliminary approval Tuesday by the council, prohibits the dispensaries or collectives in any zone in Laguna Beach and all zones are to be updated to reflect the prohibition.
Adoption of the amendments requires a second reading. The land use amendment also requires a resolution for a Local Coastal Program amendment, which will be included in the second reading.
An extension of the moratorium on applications to establish dispensaries passed unanimously on the recommendation of staff, until Oct. 2, 2010, or until the effective date of the ordinance adopting the land use regulations on establishing medical marijuana dispensaries.
The amendments will become effective Nov. 6, if the ordinance is adopted at the second reading scheduled for the Oct. 6 council meeting.