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CHIEF WANTS MEDICAL-POT MORATORIUM DISPENSARY PROLIFERATION, FLIERS NEAR SCHOOL ALARM POLICE COMMISSION.

Byline: RACHEL URANGA Staff Writer

With an explosion of medical marijuana storefronts in Los Angeles -- 143 of them, more than half in the San Fernando Valley -- and reports of Grant High School students being targeted for business, Police Chief William Bratton is backing a moratorium on pot-distribution centers.

On Tuesday, Bratton and the Los Angeles Police Commission called for the City Council to impose a moratorium on all centers until they ban dispensaries within 1,000 feet of any school, day-care facility, church or other house of worship.

``It's mind-boggling that the state has allowed them to mushroom,'' Bratton said. ``The state should be ashamed of itself for setting up a process so that this gateway drug is allowed to proliferate, and have it so poorly regulated.''

Under a 1996 state ballot measure, the clinics can distribute doctor-prescribed marijuana to relieve anything from anxiety to nausea to acute pain. But federal officials consider all marijuana illegal.

Bratton said he supports medical marijuana but believes pharmacists -- not storefront operators -- should be the ones dispensing pot.

``I am sorry, but the vast majority of these places are using it for recreational drugs, and that's my opinion,'' he said.

With the number of dispensaries jumping from just five in July 2005 to 143 by the end of last year, police say the centers' tactics have become more brazen, including distributing fliers near high schools and colleges.

At Grant High in Van Nuys, police found medical marijuana fliers on car windshields in August and said they appeared to be ads to get teens high.

The message in the fliers, emblazoned with a marijuana leaf: ``It is still legal to own, grow and smoke medical marijuana as long as you do it properly. Qualification is simple, and our experienced physicians are more than happy to help you.''

The Pacific Support Services ad offered ``$15 off with flier.'' A call to the number on the flier went unanswered.

The dispensaries also have attracted crime, with neighborhood complaints around the centers totaling 110 as of November, police said. Police also note an increase of robberies around the dispensaries.

But medical marijuana advocates say any change in the city's law could harm patients in need of pain relief.

``This is completely arbitrary and capricious. There is no rational reason,'' said Bruce Margolin, director of LANorml, a local marijuana legalization advocate group. ``By forcing it back into the black market, you are going to be encouraging more underground use of marijuana.''

Last year, Councilman Dennis Zine called for a moratorium on new clinics after a rash of clinic openings spawned community complaints. And the police note that seizures of marijuana are up 140 percent.

``It's alarming that it's increased, and there are so many of them,'' said Sarah Pullen, a spokeswoman for the Drug Enforcement Administration. ``As far as we are concerned, they are regular drug dealers. They are

violating federal law.''

An aide for Zine said the matter could come before the council early next month. But it won't come without protest.

``This is not a big scam. This is not a way to get rich,'' said a man who said he is the owner of the Natural Relief Center, a Canoga Park marijuana center, but who declined to disclose any name but Michael. ``There are a lot of things involved, working with cancer patients, patients who have seizures. They want to make us look like a bunch of partying hippies.''

rachel.uranga(at)dailynews.com

(818) 713-3741

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This flier, offering a $15 discount on marijuana, is among ones police say they found at Grant High School.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 17, 2007
Words:603
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