Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Author: Hector Becerra, Times Staff Writer
Published: April 2, 2005
Copyright: 2005 Los Angeles Times
Contact: [email protected]
California -- Cities across California are acting to prevent new medical
marijuana clubs from opening, with officials saying they fear that a
lack of regulations in state law could make the clubs magnets for
illegal drug dealing and crime.
In the last two months, San Francisco, Modesto, Ontario, Huntington
Beach and West Hollywood have imposed moratoriums until officials can
devise rules to govern marijuana clubs. The moratoriums do not affect
existing clubs; San Francisco already has 37.
"There's been some extremely negative experiences in other cities," said
Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard, whose city will consider an interim ban
later this month, though it has no marijuana clubs now.
"My biggest concern would be because zoning rules have not been
developed, we might find ourselves permitting a dispensary without rules
that would assure us it won't become a neighborhood problem," he said.
In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215, which legalized the
use of marijuana for medical treatment. Since then, cannabis clubs have
opened in many parts of the state to distribute the drug. But the
federal government, which has not shifted its own policy against
marijuana use, has raided pot clubs throughout the state.
As cities now consider restricting new clubs, many municipal officials
are looking to the Northern California town of Rocklin, which banned the
clubs outright late last year. Rocklin officials have produced a report
widely distributed around the state citing examples of petty crime, pot
DUIs and illegal drug dealing around existing clubs in Hayward, Oakland
Though some cities say they are just interested in temporary freezes on
the clubs that would allow them to fix problems or create regulations,
other cities are pondering permanent bans.
The prospect of a permanent ban worries advocates of medical marijuana,
some of whom say they are not opposed to temporary moratoriums.
"There's a sense that there needs to be regulations and controls to
ensure the dispensaries provide quality services and are being good
neighbors," said Daniel Abrahamson, director of legal affairs for the
Drug Policy Alliance in Oakland.
"But simply prohibiting them leads to bad results for everyone," he
added. "If you permanently ban dispensaries, you're essentially driving
them underground, and you lose all ability at regulating them."
San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi said the city remains committed
to medical and therapeutic uses of marijuana. He said he opposes any
permanent bans on such establishments. "A compassionate city would open
up to these clubs," Mirkarimi said.
But San Francisco experienced growing pains from its largely unregulated
clubs. That has led the city to keep new clubs from moving in until
regulations are in place. The city decided cannabis clubs should be
regulated like other businesses.
"Why should they operate in the shadows when we can legitimize them by
developing regulations that make them part of our mainstream culture?"
Rocklin Police Chief Mark Siemens cited federal law in pushing for the
ban in his town. The bedroom community of about 43,000 recently had been
approached by people who wanted to open a club, he said.
The City Council voted to add medical pot clubs to a short list of
businesses prohibited in the city, including kennels, trash disposal
sites and wrecking yards.
Since then, city officials have sent copies of their ordinance to more
than 50 interested cities, Siemens said.
"We thought the simplest process was to ban this type of business
because it is federally illegal to distribute marijuana under whatever
guise," Siemens said. "We didn't want to be in a position of using local
policing and zoning authorities to license or screen an illegal business
That position was criticized by advocates for medical pot use.
"I find it interesting that Rocklin is a city in California, but it
wants to adhere to federal law instead of state law," said Mike Corral,
agricultural director for Wo\Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana in
Santa Cruz. "They should be adhering to California law."
In November, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a case on whether
the federal government's zero-tolerance policy trumps the medical
marijuana laws in California and 10 other states. A decision is expected
later this spring, and leaders of some cities say they want to wait
until then before deciding whether to ban clubs.
"I prefer not to have them in the community at all," said Ontario Mayor
Pro Tem Alan Wapner, whose city adopted a moratorium. "If the federal
court comes out against them, I'd like to pass a motion to ban them
San Francisco's Mirkarimi said he feels otherwise.
"I think the ruling will be adverse, but I don't think it will affect
our existing clubs," Mirkarimi said. "But that's why I'm feeling, as
well as others in the City Hall family, that we want to take care of our
house and protect what we have now, just in case there is state or
In Huntington Beach, which has no medical pot businesses, zoning
restrictions approved in February would require 500 feet of separation
between the clubs and parks, schools or places of worship. The
dispensaries also would have to be more than 750 feet from each other,
said Police Chief Ken Small.
"We wanted to be more proactive, as opposed to reactive like other
cities," said Small, adding that the temporary ban has been lifted.
Richard Bruckner, the planning director for Pasadena, said he favors
"I would hope they would be regulated to the extent that a pharmacy is
regulated, and that there were prescriptions and other safeguards,"
Bruckner said. "But without that, people are nervous."
Corral of the medical marijuana alliance said he thinks the issue of
crime related to the clubs is overstated. However, he said, regulation
may help the clubs.
"I think it will make them more legitimate in the eyes of the general
population, some of who equate a cannabis club with drug dealing,"
Corral said. "As with anything, there's positives and negatives, but in
the long run, I think it's more positive."
Times staff writer Rachana Rathi contributed to this report.
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