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Citrus Heights Planners OK Pot Dispensary


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Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Author: David Richie -- Bee Staff Writer
Published: Saturday, December 11, 2004
Copyright: 2004 The Sacramento Bee
Contact: [email protected]

Citrus Heights planning commissioners, including one who described himself as a "four-year cancer survivor," approved a medical marijuana dispensary on Greenback Lane.

The decision came Thursday night after a two-hour public hearing and ended several months of debate about the Cannabis Patients Co-op proposed by Mary Jennifer Berg at 6240 Greenback Lane, a few blocks east of Auburn Boulevard.

Commission Chairman Jack Duncan and Commissioner Bill Van Duker said that they probably would not recognize cannabis if it were dropped on the table in front of them.

Van Duker described himself as a "four-year cancer survivor" who spent almost a month in a local hospital. He had an extreme reaction to the pain medications, he said, which helped him understand why doctors might recommend medical marijuana for some patients.

He also criticized the general effectiveness of the federal effort to halt illegal drug activity.

"The war on drugs has been a failure," Van Duker said. "It has been about as successful as Prohibition. I don't see this particular dispensary as a black blight on the neighborhood."

Duncan, however, voiced doubts. His said his auto-dismantling business was invaded a few years ago by men who thought that marijuana was being stored on the premises.

"My son had a gun held to his head," Duncan said. "It's scary, and it has taken us two years to get over this."

Berg, who has described herself as a primary caregiver for her sick mother, said she has developed an awareness of the need for medical marijuana.

When asked why she was continuing to press for the license, Berg said, "because it is the right thing to do."

"Those people should be able to get their medicine from a dispensary, instead of a street thug," Berg said.

The planning officials also expressed concerns about the potential for a federal drug raid on Berg's business - similar to those in Roseville a few months ago.

They also noted the U.S. Supreme Court is considering Ashcroft v. Raich, a case involving California's Compassionate Use Act of 1996, which allows use of medical marijuana by qualified patients who have a written recommendation from their doctor.

With a decision on the case possibly months off, the planners decided to stand by the state law and the city's medical cannabis ordinance, adopted in June.

"I think we have been placed in a very awkward position between the state and federal government," Commissioner David Cook said.

In a telephone interview Friday, Larry Brown, first assistant U.S. attorney in Sacramento, said the Supreme Court case is viewed by the Justice Department and other federal officials as "relatively narrow."

A decision in Ashcroft v. Raich will not necessarily apply to other so-called cannabis dispensaries, Brown said.

People operating those businesses still risk action by federal authorities, Brown said.

"As recently as 2 1/2 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court held that there is no medical exception for cultivation or selling of marijuana," Brown said. "Marijuana is strictly prohibited under federal law."

City planning staff members told the commission Berg has complied with the city's medical marijuana ordinance requirements, including passing a law enforcement background check and installing alarm systems.

Despite opposition from area residents, staff members recommended approving Berg's permit with 19 conditions. The conditions included a requirement allowing the city attorney to request another hearing on the dispensary if a court ruling on medical marijuana does not favor local dispensaries.

The Greenback Lane location also meets the city's requirement that any cannabis dispensary be at least 1,000 feet from schools, parks and other "sensitive uses."

The city ordinance on medical marijuana requires a two-part process for the applicant. Berg must now secure a medical cannabis dispensary permit from the city manager.

City Manager Henry Tingle was not available for comment Friday.

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