The Murrieta City Council Tuesday night granted its city attorney the power to initiate legal actions against those in violation of the city’s temporary moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries.
In a 4-1 vote, council members voted to allow the city attorney, after consulting with the police chief and city manager, to seek injunctions to close dispensaries without prior City Council approval to initiate litigation. The initiation of legal action would typically need to wait until the City Council met or a special meeting was called.
"It's important that the city move forward with litigation and court orders immediately so that these medical marijuana dispensaries do not operate or become vested in the city," said Murrieta City Attorney Leslie Devaney. "The timing is very important."
The city banned dispensaries in 2005. In October 2011, after a dispensary opened on Madison Avenue, council members approved a temporary moratorium, which was extended to Sept. 18, 2013.
Tuesday’s vote comes after a medical marijuana dispensary, Diamond Star Remedies, recently opened in Murrieta. Located at 41449 Los Alamos Road, the dispensary was ordered closed Thursday due to alleged code violations.
Prior to the vote, four public speakers spoke in favor of medical marijuana and against the proposed ordinance.
"I don't know if you guys have taken a poll, but in Murrieta there are a lot of people that are disabled and rely on medical cannabis for a special form of medication that pharmaceuticals don’t do for them," said Diamond Star Remedies operator John Szwec. "Have a little bit of compassion."
Another speaker added: "We should have the right to choose what we ingest into our systems. By taking that away, a lot of these people are going to go back to the streets."
Councilman Harry Ramos, who casted the sole vote against the ordinance, objected to granting the city attorney more enforcement authority over dispensaries because he said he is torn on the issue of medical marijuana and did not have an opportunity to vote on the temporary moratorium.
"From my young experience here, generally from what I’m learning from my [fellow] council members, they prefer to see what the courts are going to decide on certain issues," said the newly-seated Ramos.
Mayor Rick Gibbs said the city is "muddling through" like other California municipalities while the state legislature and federal government sort through the issue.
"We are trying to avoid doing something that is dumb no matter which side of the aisle you fall on," Gibbs said. "The best we could come up with, and not everybody up here agrees with it, was to put the moratorium into place to give the supreme court of the state of California time to make a ruling and give us some guidance."