The Laguna Niguel City Council tonight will consider extending its temporary moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries as it awaits the results of a court case that will decide whether cities can prohibit the pot shops.

Laguna Niguel’s moratorium has been in effect for a year, and the decision before council is whether to extend the moratorium for another year. Cities have a two-year limit on these types of moratoriums, so this will be the final extension the city can make, according to City Manager Tim Casey.

The stores — which sell medical marijuana to patients who have an OK from a doctor to use the drug — started popping up after Proposition 215 passed in 1996.

Over the years, Proposition 215 became the center of legal wrangling between California and the federal government, which views marijuana possession as illegal under any circumstance, including medical use.

But the medical marijuana battle hasn’t occurred solely between the state and the federal government. Orange County cities like Lake Forest and Dana Point have filed suit against similar dispensaries in their cities, citing an implied city code prohibition.

The Laguna Niguel council first passed the temporary ban because the city said it needed to study possible prohibition and regulation. The council’s ultimate decision is likely to depend on a court battle (Qualified Patients Association v. city of Anaheim) over a city’s ability to prohibit or regulate dispensaries, said City Attorney Terry Dixon.

“I think the real question for Laguna Niguel is where the city will be at the end of the moratorium,” Dixon said.

Though Laguna Niguel has only one suspected dispensary in the city, Dixon said the city felt it needed the moratorium to clarify that the dispensaries wouldn’t be tolerated.

Dixon says the city gets “one or two inquiries” a month as to whether dispensaries are allowed in the city. Part of the reason the moratorium was adopted, Dixon said, is that the city wanted to make absolutely clear that — for now at least — dispensaries are not allowed in the city.

Before the moratorium, city staff took the position that dispensaries are prohibited in the city because they weren’t listed as approved businesses under city code, Casey said.

“It was always an implicit prohibition, rather than an explicit prohibition,” Casey said.

In two previous votes the council voted unanimously for moratoriums, Casey said.


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