By Lynn Lieu
By a 5-0 vote this past Tuesday, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors approved moving forward on the drafting of an ordinance to regulate and allow the operation of medical-marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county—14 years after California voters approved the use of the plant for medicinal purposes and six years after the state Medical Marijuana Program Act passed to provide a voluntary identification card and registration system for qualified patients and their caregivers.
Surprisingly, medical marijuana activists were nearly caught off-guard. More on that in a sec.
Supervisors asked the District Attorney’s office to provide input and directed the planning, code enforcement and sheriff’s department staff to help plan and write the law. Also in attendance were about 30 patients, each wanting to have their voices heard as the ordinance is developed.
“We, [the patients and advocates] were there for a long time,” Lanny Swerdlow, founder of the Marijuana Anti-Prohibition Project and operator of the THCF Medical Clinic in Riverside, tells the Weekly. “The board listened and they were interested . . . They should be proceeding very rapidly.”
Swerdlow, a staunch medical marijuana advocate, has been working with patients to voice their needs and issues. “We went down there [on Tuesday] and said, ‘Listen, this is a starter, this is not the kind of stuff you put in an ordinance . . . ,’” he says. “We told them we wanted to be a part of the process developing the ordinance.”
Swerdlow—whose been targeted by Riverside city officials for allegedly operating a medical-marijuana clinic in violation of the zoning code—also suggested that a medical-marijuana task force be installed similar to the one in Palm Springs.
“Palm Springs is the only city in the Inland Empire that allows medical-marijuana collectives to operate under their zoning ordinance . . . I am suggesting to the board that they do the same thing to ensure citizen input in the ordinance that is crafted [so] that it would be fair and equitable to patients and will take care of their needs as well as address them.”
For Swerdlow and other advocates, Tuesday’s meeting was a big step toward the medical-marijuana movement. But, while the board of supervisors invited the county’s law-enforcement and legal officials to help in developing the new law, Swerdlow and other patients had little notice of the meeting or the ordinance.
“We had no idea that the county was even going to do this,” Swerdlow says. “We had meetings with the county about eight months ago, [but] we had never heard back from them since. They said they were going to keep us in the loop; we heard absolutely nothing.”
It wasn’t until earlier this month, at a Wildomar City Council meeting, that Swerdlow heard that Supervisor Jeff Stone had announced the ordinance and that it would be on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting.
“We had no idea this was coming and if we weren’t there Wednesday [in Wildomar], we wouldn’t have known about it probably at all,” Swerdlow says. “Unless you get the county’s agenda and read the 17 pages of things that are going on every single word every single week, you’re not going to know it. They didn’t tell anybody even though they promised to keep us in the loop and tell us what’s going on. They failed to keep us in the loop.”
Swerdlow doesn’t understand why he and other patients were not informed in a timely manner of Tuesday’s meeting. “I don’t know why they didn’t tell us,” he says. “Maybe they don’t know how to reach us? I don’t know if it was a conscious decision or an oversight. I have no idea.”
Supervisor Jeff Stone and officials with the Riverside County District Attorney’s office did not respond to requests for interviews for this story.