Cities hang medical pot out to dry



Citing worries that medical marijuana breeds criminal activity, Atascadero City Council members voted unanimously to extend a temporary ban on medical marijuana dispensaries through September 2010. In the interim, city officials made it clear that they want to draft a permanent prohibition on dispensaries.


The final vote was 4-0, with Councilman Bob Kelley absent, to extend an existing 45-day moratorium another 10 months and 15 days. The vote came despite near-overwhelming pressure from community members who begged not to lose the possibility of having a dispensary in the city. There are no dispensaries in SLO County and many medical marijuana patients travel outside the county or depend on delivery services to obtain marijuana.


Even a few council members expressed reluctance to vote in favor of the ban, but did so anyway. Mayor Ellen Béraud said she believes in the medical benefits of marijuana and in fact voted in favor of Proposition 215, which decriminalized the drug’s use for sick people in California. But, she went on, “as a council member, we have overwhelming evidence that this is not a good thing for our community.”


That evidence was provided by City Attorney Brian Pierik, who compiled news articles about problems associated with marijuana as well as other city ordinances banning dispensaries—Atascadero was the last city in the county to prohibit them. Responding to community criticism that medical marijuana isn’t as dangerous as was alleged by the city, Pierik became outwardly annoyed and outlined what was included in his report.


“There is a clear danger with regard to these marijuana facilities,” Pierik said after citing several articles and city ordinances. Many articles in the staff report, however, focused on illegal operations.


All but one of about a half dozen people who spoke at the Oct. 27 meeting said, by their experiences with dispensaries outside the county, medical marijuana isn’t dangerous, nor are the dispensaries a haven for criminals. Scott Ziering, a medical marijuana user and 20-year resident, said, “The Schedule 1 classification of marijuana is wrong and people are suffering because of it.”


The disparity between state and federal laws on the drug (marijuana is still completely illegal under federal law) made council members most squeamish. Though a new policy was recently announced that federal raids would ease on legally operating dispensaries, Pierik and other city officials worried about their own liability. Pierik said no city has ever been held responsible for allowing a dispensary, but warned that just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it can’t.


It won’t be until state and federal laws come into congruence that council members said they’d be comfortable.

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