Paso Robles City Council kills proposed ban on mobile medical marijuana dispensaries



The political winds surrounding marijuana shifted a bit at the July 15 Paso Robles City Council meeting; city staff were unsuccessful in an attempt to pass a ban on mobile medical marijuana dispensaries within city boundaries.

The attempt brought to mind a similar effort made by San Luis Obispo city staff in May, which the council rejected 4-1 after hearing hours of public testimony. A few familiar faces appeared at the Paso Robles July 15 meeting, where the council spent only an hour on the matter, leaving the attempted ban dead in the water with a clear 2-2 deadlock (Councilman John Hamon was absent).

After someone tried to file a mobile dispensary business license with the city, staffers pitched the urgency ordinance as a matter of “housekeeping” to follow the city’s ban on brick-and-mortar dispensaries, saying there’s “a current and immediate threat to public health, safety, and welfare in absence of the City adopting an ordinance prohibiting establishment, operation, or use of mobile medical marijuana dispensaries.”

The Paso Robles Police Department’s Lt. Ty Lewis told the council that the city experiences a lot of drug-related crime, and that a number of incidents in the city are suspected to have been drug related—though the cause isn’t always clear.

Many of the people speaking at the meeting saw things differently, however, addressing safety concerns and making a case for reasonable access to medical cannabis.

Stephanie Kiel, director of Ethnobotanica, a delivery service that operates in Monterey and San Luis Obispo County, addressed the notion that if dispensaries were banned in Paso Robles, patients could travel elsewhere out of county to get medical cannabis.

“If we cannot access them, via delivery, they will not have access themselves,” Kiel said. “That’s a long drive for people that are in pain and are ill.”

With the exception of a board member of the Paso Robles Downtown Main Street Association, every speaker addressed benefits of medical cannabis and the necessity for mobile dispensaries since brick-and-mortar dispensaries are banned in every city in the county, and every attempt to obtain a permit in county jurisdiction has been shot down. Impassioned pleas came from patients, including those who use medical cannabis for epilepsy and chronic pain; other speakers represented family members who have cancer or use a wheelchair. A retired Paso Robles Fire Department firefighter paramedic told the council that he uses a mobile dispensary to obtain medical cannabis to deal with harmful side effects of medication for undisclosed medical problems.

Ernest Hall, who operates the Paso Robles-based delivery service Dub’s Green Garden, told the council that his patients are mostly over the age of 40, with the addition of recent combat veterans.

“I don’t have a lot of young people or riffraff. I haven’t had any assaults on me or on the business.” Hall said. “If anybody wants to take a ride along to see what kind of people we deal with every day, that may help to open your eyes.”

Councilman Fred Strong—who said his daughter relies on a delivery service for prescribed medical marijuana for severely chronic headaches—expressed frustration that this issue was based on fear, rather than rational consideration.

“I’m hoping that we can find a different way to do this, and instead of rejecting this, find a way to make it work,” he said.

Councilman Steve Martin said that while he’s opposed to marijuana’s legalization, he struggled with the ordinance.

“I find great irony that we have this issue in front of us tonight because these ‘desperate dealers of death’ applied for a business license,” Martin said. “We are forcing people to become criminals, and that doesn’t make any sense.”

Not all council members saw the problem, however.

“Marijuana is not legal in the United States as far as I can determine,” Mayor Duane Picanco said. “I’m sorry, but I have to support this ordinance this evening. It’s not as though it’s not available; those of you that are here have admitted that you are using it.”

The issue was left for dead after Martin joined Strong in voting 2-2 to reject the proposal.

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

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