In a move that surprised many onlookers, Temecula council members recently altered their stance on growing medical marijuana within city limits.
The shift – which reflects a sharp detour from the city’s past policies – would allow qualified medical marijuana users to grow up to 12 plants under specified conditions. The new policy, if it wins final approval at a Jan. 26 meeting, would mirror a Riverside County ordinance that took effect last year.
The new direction emerged despite recommendations from city staff and planning commissioners to uphold Temecula’s current ban on medical marijuana dispensaries, deliveries and cultivation.
The consensus emerged Jan. 12 following a nearly two-hour discussion. It came after about 10 audience members spoke on the issue, nearly all in favor of loosening the existing restrictions. Several of the speakers noted how the plant has eased their pain or daunting medication conditions or those suffered by loved ones.
Some of them displayed pictures on their cell phones to show marijuana crops they have grown or the scores of medical marijuana delivery services that will meet customers at locations throughout southwest Riverside County.
Several of the speakers – including Lanny Swerdlow and Martin and Lavonne Victor – had previously appeared before past councils that banned the potential proliferation of medical marijuana.
Several council members said those comments helped educate them, and the decision was one of the hardest they have made during their years of service.
Councilman Jeff Comerchero noted that he had been “agonizing over” the issue for a week prior to the hearing. He noted that past councils, including some that he helped anchor, had been “adamant” in opposing marijuana use.
That opposition had included legal action against unauthorized dispensaries that had popped up in the city in recent years.
Councilwoman Maryann Edwards echoed that sentiment. She noted the difficulty of balancing her legal qualms against the compassion that God has placed in her heart for people suffering from chronic pain, cancer or other illnesses.
“This has been one of the most difficult subjects I’ve dealt with in my 11 years on the council,” Edwards said in her remarks. “This one has been really tough.”
The session attracted about 30 onlookers, including a pair of police officers. Afterward, one officer acknowledged his surprise at the council’s shift in position. Temecula is one of 17 cities that contract with the county Sheriff’s Department for police services. Yet even the county – which for years opposed the commercialization of medical marijuana – has relaxed its stance of late.
California voters thrust the state in the forefront when they approved the nation’s first medical marijuana initiative in 1996. Since then, 22 other states and the District of Colombia have followed suit. Four states – Colorado, Oregon, Alaska and Washington – have also legalized recreational use of marijuana.
Yet despite California’s lead role, there was no uniformity across the state in establishing policies for sales, distribution or cultivation. Many cities like Temecula opted to simply ban cultivation and commercial sales of the product.
But a package of bills signed in October by Gov. Jerry Brown established a licensing system for medical marijuana dispensing, deliveries and cultivation.
That package, referred to as the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, has prompted scores of jurisdictions to examine, and in many cases change, their long-standing policies. Unless cities or counties have ordinances in place by March 1, state rules will now govern medical marijuana activities.
Temecula and many other cities have since stressed the need to tailor their own ordinances in order to maintain local control over such a key issue.
At the Jan. 12 meeting, Temecula City Attorney Peter Thorson told the council it would need to move soon in order to meet the upcoming deadline. City ordinances typically take effect 30 days after they are approved on a second reading.
Cities throughout the area have recently enacted a range of policies. The city of San Diego has authorized 13 medical marijuana dispensaries, and many storefronts are becoming established in outlying unincorporated communities there. The city of Riverside will allow medical marijuana users to grow their own plants. Oceanside is expected to authorize medical marijuana deliveries, yet Poway and Escondido plan to keep their existing ban intact.
In May, Riverside County supervisors loosened their longtime opposition to medical marijuana. The county’s new ordinance, which took effect last July, permits holders of a medical marijuana identification card to grow plants.
Under the ordinance, a qualified patient or primary caregiver can grow up to 12 marijuana plants on the grounds of a single-family dwelling. Up to 24 plants may be grown if there are two patients or caregivers. A least one patient or caregiver must live on the property where the marijuana is grown.
The ordinance identifies a range of restrictions. For example, plants cannot be grown in certain structures and cannot be grown within 1,000 feet of any school, park or community center. Plants must also be reasonably secured to prevent theft or access by minors.
Yet federal law continues to outlaw marijuana possession, and the Food and Drug Administration has maintained that marijuana has no accepted medical use. Temecula Councilman Matt Rahn, a college professor and researcher who holds doctorate and law degrees, cited that dichotomy when he questioned the city’s proposed policy change.
“I haven’t been able to wrap my head around this fully,” Rahn said at one point.
But Rahn eventually agreed to take into account the views expressed by audience members and his colleagues as Temecula’s proposed ordinance undergoes scrutiny in the weeks ahead.
In the end, the council voted 4-0 to adopt the new ordinance in concept. Mayor Mike Naggar was absent from the meeting.