Opposition to Malibu’s proposed pot ordinance voiced

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The Planning Commission is taking public comment on a proposed ban to medical marijuana dispensaries. Some Malibu residents say marijuana is the only way to relieve pain and suffering from health problems.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

Some Malibu residents are voicing their opposition to a proposed ordinance to ban medical marijuana dispensaries from operating within city limits. They say that without the use of marijuana, there would be no relief from the pain they’ve suffered due to injuries suffered from car accidents and other health disabilities.

The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing June 3 to discuss an amendment to Malibu’s Municipal Code that would institute the ban.

Currently, there are two dispensaries, or collectives, operating in Malibu under a moratorium on establishing any new dispensaries first adopted two years ago.

The California Compassionate Use Act of 1996 and the Medical Marijuana Program found in the state Health and Safety Code both authorize the personal use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, but neither specifically authorizes the establishment of dispensaries for the herb.

City planner Kathleen Mallory’s report for the Planning Commission states that cities with such establishments have seen an increase in loitering around dispensaries, burglaries and that they promote increased noise and traffic complaints. Therefore, the city is proposing an ordinance that bans the dispensaries.

Mayor Pamela Conley Ulich said she has received requests from residents to leave the dispensaries open, but also has heard from “mothers who have found that people have prescriptions who shouldn’t have them.”

Conley Ulich said the City Council does not lean one way or other on the issue, and will wait to hear the final report from the Planning Commission and public commentary.

Dustin Zahn, the proprietor of PCH Collective, grew up in Malibu and said he opened his dispensary because of personal family experience with medicinal marijuana.

“My mom was sick and went through a grueling treatment of interferon and other drugs,” he said. “The only way she got through it was because she smoked [marijuana]. Therapeutic drug regimens are very hard. I’ve read statistics that say 80 percent of patients who smoke manage to complete their treatment course.”

Zahn is aware of the complaints voiced about dispensaries but said they don’t apply to his establishment.

“We have strict security measures in place with alarms and cameras,” he said. “There is absolutely no consumption anywhere near the premises, there have been no traffic issues around our place and we permit no loitering.”

Zahn said he can’t speak for how other dispensaries run elsewhere, but that he practices due diligence in filling all prescriptions.

“We turn away patients if they don’t have the original prescriptions written by doctors we know,” he said. “This is about compassionate care for sick people. If city council members came here for a day, they’d see their own neighbors coming in and out.”

Malibu resident George Goldstein is a commercial real estate broker and runs a wealth management company. He said he used medical marijuana to alleviate pain he suffered after a car accident nearly cost him his leg.

“My leg was evaporated [sic] and I’m lucky to be alive,” Goldstein said. “Instead of amputating, they put in titanium rods and now I walk again.”

But the pain he experienced daily was paralyzing and he found himself allergic to morphine.

“I can’t think responsibly on these other drugs, and marijuana was the only way I could get through the day and still have enough grey matter to function,” he said.

Goldstein fears that banning legal dispensaries will end up bringing in the undesirable elements it purports to prevent.

“People who need this medicine will get it, and banning it will just bring in dealers,” he said. “It’s best to have it available at a licensed, regulated and taxed establishment here.”

Dr. Tommy Zaharakis, a nephrologist who prescribes marijuana for his patients, said he does background checks on everyone for whom he prescribes.

“Marijuana has been proven to help patients suffering from a variety of diseases, including multiple sclerosis, HIV wasting and chronic pain,” he said. “But like any controlled substance, it must be licensed to distribute and [be] regulated.”

Asked if marijuana is a “gateway drug,” Zaharakis responded, “Well, the average age of my patient is 54, and they hurt. Ninety percent of them have tried and failed with other therapies. Marijuana helps them.”

One Malibu resident, who wished to remain unidentified, said he was “the poster child” for medical marijuana.

“I’m 56 and have secondary, progressive MS,” he said. “I have limited mobility, and pot reduces my spasms and allows me to rest, eat and socialize better. I’ve spent 20 years on very powerful drugs and this isn’t one of them. It will be very difficult for me to get this relief easily if the local dispensary is closed.”

Federal law does not recognize California’s medicinal marijuana statutes and has led to raids on dispensaries in West Hollywood.

Congressional objections to federal interference with local dispensaries have come from such disparate forces as Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (46th D-California) and Democratic Rep. John Conyers (14th D-Michigan).

City Attorney Christi Hogin said she advised the city on two issues regarding the dispensaries.

“One, there is a conflict with federal law that hasn’t been resolved and two, if the dispensaries [are] run not as a collective but as a retail shop, where there’s a lot of cash, it can be a problem,” Hogin said. “Any collective not operating legally cannot continue business, but marijuana is not a moral issue. The people of California have already determined that it can be of valuable medicinal use.”

Lost Hills/Malibu Sheriff’s Captain Tom Martin said, “Off the top of my head, I don’t recall any problems with dispensaries in Malibu. But if they vote to ban the dispensaries, we’ll enforce code.”

The Planning Commission’s public hearing will take place June 3 at 6:30 p.m. at the council chambers in City Hall. Public comments should reference “Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Ordinance” and may be sent to Kathleen Mallory at KMallory@PandES.net