Temecula’s newfound acceptance of cultivating medical marijuana within city limits was recently upheld despite continued resistance from one council member and the contrary positions taken by a pair of nearby cities.
But, like the last time the medical marijuana issue was raised in Temecula, the decision did not come easy for the City Council. The outcome was essentially the same Jan. 12 and Jan. 26, but the two hearings together lasted nearly five hours and drew comments from about 15 speakers.
“This is really a tough one, folks,” Councilman Jeff Comerchero noted at one point in the Jan. 26 discussion.
As was the case Jan. 12, most of the audience members who spoke on the issue were in favor of loosening restrictions. Several of them detailed how the plant has lessened their pain or eased the serious medical conditions suffered by loved ones.
In the end, Comerchero again won sufficient votes from his colleagues to end the city’s longtime resistance to cultivating medical marijuana. Comerchero did so despite the qualms of colleague Matt Rahn and recent votes by the Murrieta and Menifee councils to reinstate their existing bans on the controversial plant.
But Comerchero was joined this time around by Mayor Mike Naggar, who was absent from the Jan. 12 meeting in which the council approved the policy shift in concept. After listening to audience input, Naggar cited some personal instances that prompted him to endorse the council’s previous stance.
He initially asked city staff to show a “60 Minutes” television report that examined how the mother of a young girl credited a marijuana extract with eliminating debilitating seizures that had convulsed the youth every half-hour.
Naggar said he and his wife have increasingly relied on homeopathic medicines to treat their 10-year-old son, Liam, who is autistic. Those deviations from traditional medicine have been beneficial, he said.
He went on to tell how the parents of his niece have used a marijuana derivative to ease the girl’s suffering from terminal cancer. The parents switched to the substance, he said, because narcotics put the girl to sleep and rob the family of the precious time they have together.
Naggar said he would, despite his conservative political beliefs, give a relative medical marijuana if it eased their pain or improved their quality of life
“Those (instances) have changed my world view, and I’d be a hypocrite if I did anything else,” Naggar said as the recent council discussion wound down.
A flurry of new state laws signed last year has prompted scores of jurisdictions to examine, and in many cases change, their long-standing policies toward medical marijuana dispensaries, deliveries and cultivation.
Many cities and counties are moving quickly because they will be required to follow state medical marijuana guidelines if they do not have local ordinances in place by March 1.
Temecula and many other cities have cited the need to tailor their own ordinances in order to maintain local control over such a key issue. In order to win approval, city and county ordinances typically require a pair of votes cast over a short period. Those ordinances take effect 30 days after they are approved on a second reading.
Temecula’s vote, which is expected to be reviewed in a year or less as additional information is gathered, represents a sharp detour from past council actions.
California voters took the lead on the emerging medical and social issue when they approved the nation’s first medical marijuana initiative in 1996.
Yet despite the voter support, there was no uniformity across the state in establishing policies for sales, distribution or cultivation. Many cities like Temecula opted to simply ban cultivation, deliveries and sales of the product to residents who obtained a doctor’s recommendation. Riverside County also banned medical marijuana
But California’s action spurred similar shifts in other states. Since California’s approval, 22 other states and the District of Colombia have allowed the use of medical marijuana.
In recent years, four states – Colorado, Oregon, Alaska and Washington – have also legalized recreational use of marijuana.
During the council discussion, Temecula City Attorney Peter Thorson conceded that the steady relaxation of marijuana laws has made it difficult in recent years to prosecute those who discretely grow or use the substance.
Last year, Riverside County supervisors eased their longtime opposition to medical marijuana. The county’s new ordinance, which took effect in 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. A least one patient or caregiver must live on the property where the marijuana is grown.
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 by March 1.
Yet federal law continues to outlaw marijuana possession, and the Food and Drug Administration has maintained that marijuana has no accepted medical use. Councilman Rahn noted the legal discrepancy and countered that the full consequences of this “social experiment” remain unknown.
“It’s opening a door and that’s a concern,” he said.
Cities throughout the area have recently enacted a range of policies.
The city of San Diego has authorized 13 medical marijuana dispensaries, and cultivation is allowed and dispensaries 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.
Murrieta and Menifee each recently upheld their existing bans on medical marijuana. Temecula council members said they must base their decisions on their city’s needs, not how other councils act on the issue.
Temecula’s ordinance mirrors the rules adopted by Riverside County. Those ordinances identify a range of restrictions that govern medical marijuana cultivation. 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.