Paso Robles to issue business licenses to mobile medical marijuana dispensaries, narrowly avoids a second vote on an outright ban



Just three weeks after an unsuccessful bid to ban mobile medical marijuana dispensaries, the Paso Robles City Council revisited the topic and voted to begin accepting business licenses for such dispensaries.

It was a tense evening on Aug. 5, with more than 100 people filling the room and spilling out into the lobby.

City councilmembers voted 3-2 to “receive and file” business licenses for mobile dispensaries. The process was sparked when a North County-based mobile dispensary applied for a business license in the city. City staff responded by recommending an outright ban on the services, an issue that resulted in a 2-2 stalemate among councilmembers at their July 15 meeting (Councilman John Hamon was absent). Staff brought the matter back on Aug. 5 to get direction on whether to issue business licenses. The option to ban dispensaries was still on the table, but drew plenty of criticism.

Patients and family members of patients argued that medical marijuana provides a variety of benefits, including pain relief, sleep aid, and other treatment for chronic and terminal conditions. Many of those patients described issues they had with other medications, especially opiates, and the associated negative side effects. No one who spoke argued against dispensaries.

Paso Robles resident Ron Pellegrino said he suffers from severe pain associated with shingles, and other medications he’s used didn’t work—some even made him suicidal.

“I didn’t start the recovery until I used medical marijuana,” Pellegrino said. “I didn’t take any medical marijuana today just so I can talk to you feeling the pain, the non-stop pain.”

Providers who work for mobile dispensaries told the council that they haven’t experienced any problems with criminal activity in Paso Robles; patients lauded the professionalism of the providers and their products’ quality. Many told the council that mobile dispensaries were the only logical source for medical marijuana since brick-and-mortar dispensaries are banned in every city in the county, and attempts to acquire permits to operate in the unincorporated areas have been unsuccessful.

“We’re here to provide people safe access to medication and help them live a better life,” said Ernest Hall, operator of the Paso Robles-based mobile dispensary Dub’s Green Garden, who on July 15 told councilmembers that most of his patients were elderly and suffered from chronic conditions. “I’m really emotional right now, I feel like crying, because it’s just sad, sad, so that’s it, I have to go.”

Before Hall spoke, he escorted to the podium Dana Holland, who is legally blind and uses medical marijuana for relief from the degenerative eye disease retinitis pigmentosa, to the podium.

Councilman Steve Martin estimated that those who contacted him about the matter supported dispensaries by a 20:1 ratio.

“It’s amazing we spend so much time on this,” Martin said. “We have issues of water, we have issues of economic development, we have issues of city services.”

Councilman Fred Strong, who said he also supports the right for dispensaries to operate, moved to direct the city to receive and file business licenses. But the tension tightened when John Hamon, absent during the previous 2-2 deadlock, said he’d support a ban. However, after a pause, Councilman Ed Steinbeck, who previously voted for a ban, joined Martin and Strong to approve the motion that the city begin issuing business licenses.

After the crowd gave a short round of applause for the council, Mayor Duane Picanco told the crowd: “We’re not entertaining here, we don’t need applause.”

-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay

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