Fresno Marijuana Ruling Delayed

October 9, 2009 12:22:34 AM PDT
California's medical marijuana debate took a sharp turn, even as a judge delayed a decision on whether to shut down the nine Fresno pot dispensaries.While Fresno's dispensaries are in a temporary limbo, Los Angeles is taking a strict stance against the businesses that have blossomed in that city over the last few months.

When pot dispensaries started popping up in Fresno, the city created a zoning ordinance outlawing them because they violate federal law. And even though California voters approved the use of medical marijuana, Fresno's just one of many local governments cracking down.

On the night the California Herbal Relief Center thought it might be forced to shut down, the doors are still open. "It could've been today, but the judge is going to give it some consideration and decide it fairly," said CHRC owner Sean Dwyer.

Dwyer's marijuana collective is one of nine fighting the city of Fresno over its zoning ordinance. Their attorneys claim California's Prop 215 overrides federal laws banning the use of marijuana. "We're entitled to our state law on this issue and I think our courts should uphold that and I don't think our cities should try to deceptively use a zoning law to try an end around," said attorney Kenneth Clark, who represents the Sierra Natural Healing Collective.

But lawyers for the city claim they can regulate anything that happens within the city's borders, as long as the rules don't ban something that's constitutionally protected. That leaves dispensaries with very little wiggle room, according to ABC-30 legal analyst Tony Capozzi. "What they can do is go out into county areas and open up in that particular jurisdiction, but the city is being pretty adamant about this, saying 'If you don't meet both state and federal law, you're not going to operate in city limits.' I think they're entitled to do that," said Capozzi.

Fresno is not alone in trying to restrict the collectives. Madera County banned them, Tulare County called for a moratorium, and now even L.A. is getting in on the act. The district attorney there said Thursday he'll prosecute everyone running a dispensary because he believes selling pot over-the-counter is illegal.

But marijuana patients say voters approved it and they desperately need it. "I can't take anything from an everyday aspirin, morphine puts me in cardiac arrest, so my only option is the cannabis," said Diana Kirby.

Fresno County Judge Alan Simpson says he'll issue his final ruling sometime next week. If he sides with the city, the dispensaries will have to shut down immediately.

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