Murrieta is poised to extend its moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries.
A public hearing regarding a one-year extension of the moratorium is set for 7 p.m. tonight during a regularly scheduled Murrieta City Council meeting. Council members will then vote on whether to extend the urgency ordinance that expires Sept. 30.
The temporary moratorium has been in place since October 2011 "to allow for the courts to provide clarification to municipalities on this issue," wrote Murrieta police Capt. Dennis Vrooman, in a staff report prepared for city council.
A California Supreme Court review of dispensary regulation by local governments is not expected until the beginning of 2013 at the soonest.
"An extension of the moratorium is recommended to allow sufficient time for the Supreme Court to rule on this issue," Vrooman wrote.
Reached by phone Monday, Vrooman said the city is taking a "wait and see attitude."
"It is to determine what the ultimate case law will be," Vrooman said. "Will cities be able to prohibit dispensaries within their jurisdictions?"
California voters in 1996 approved Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act, designed to protect patients prescribed marijuana for medicinal purposes.
The State Legislature then enacted the Medical Marijuana Program, which prohibits the arrest of any qualified patients or their primary caregivers.
Neither piece of legislation expressly authorizes or addresses the role of dispensaries in the scheme of providing medical marijuana to qualified patients and/or their primary caregivers, Vrooman wrote.
Additionally, it is city staff's interpretation that the legislation allows for local regulation.
In 2005, Murrieta City Council passed a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries within the city limits.
"Once established, these locations have created a number of secondary effects associated with them," Vrooman wrote.
These include drug dealing, sales to minors, loitering, heavy vehicle and foot traffic in retail areas and increased noise, according to a report produced in 2009 by the California Police Chiefs Association.
Robberies of customers just outside dispensaries are also common byproducts of dispensary operations, according to the report cited by Murrieta police.
In July 2011, Cooperative Medical Group opened a storefront on Madison Avenue in Murrieta.
In January 2012, Greenhouse Cannabis Club opened on Jefferson Avenue.
A judge ordered both operations closed while city lawsuits pend in each case.
"As of right now, there are no dispensaries operating in Murrieta," Vrooman told Patch.
"Basically we don’t want to change some law that may be in conflict with some other ruling and therefore we get sued," Vrooman said.
In the meantime, he said, "The message is clear in this city that they are illegal and it is not something the city council is going to entertain."
Perhaps the main decision awaited from California Supreme Court is in the review of City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients' Health and Wellness Center.
Riverside's ban of dispensaries was upheld by an appellate court, but the state Supreme Court agreed to review the case when it was brought forward by the dispensary founder, Lanny Swerdlow.
The dispensary opened on Main Street in Riverside in 2009.
"We are still open, we have always had a stay (from the court). We've never closed," Swerdlow said, when reached by phone Monday.
"When we appealed to the California Supreme Court, they took the case 7-0," Swerdlow said.
He called on cities to make "reasonable licensing requirements" available for dispensaries.
"Why in the world are the cities tying us in knots?," Swerdlow said.
In his opinion, this is because "cops" are "diametrically opposed to marijuana."
"The problem is, police believe medical marijuana will lead to legalization of marijuana. And why are they afraid? Because it is a full-time law enforcement stimulus program that will disappear overnight."
Swerdlow refutes claims that dispensaries bring elevated crime to communities.
"This reaction by the city of Murrieta has nothing to do with 'it causes more crime.' It is sad, really sad."