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At the Feb. 2 meeting of the Portola City Council, City Attorney Steve Gross introduced a draft of a five-page ordinance to ban medical marijuana dispensaries within city limits. After consideration, Ordinance No. 339 will be back on the Feb. 23 agenda for approval and become effective March 23.
The ordinance banning dispensaries followed two meetings of discussions on the subject: the first allowing a pair of applicants to present their proposal for setting up a dispensary in Portola and the second primarily a presentation of local law enforcement protest against doing so. Comments from the public both for and against the idea were received at both meetings in approximately equal measure.
The lengthy ordinance cites both state and federal regulations. At the first meeting, Gross had expressed the federal government’s public statement that it would not prosecute persons otherwise protected by a state’s medical marijuana statutes. However, the ordinance announces “ … the federal Drug Enforcement Agency has enforced the Controlled Substances Act against dispensary operators and others who help supply patients in California with medical marijuana … ”
In balancing “adherence” to both federal and state law, the ordinance included this section regarding “Relationship to Other Laws,” a paragraph that only a lawyer could love:
“This chapter is not intended to, nor shall it be construed or given effect in a manner that causes it to apply to any activity that is regulated by federal or state law to the extent that application of this chapter would conflict with such law or would unduly interfere with the achievement of federal or state regulatory purposes.”
The ordinance based its inception on fears of what might occur if a dispensary were to be located in the city. It liberally states fears of increased burglaries and criminal activity, loitering, false ID cards, smell, traffic complaints, noise and inadequate property maintenance. The list was repeated several times throughout the ordinance and it averred that a dispensary would require increased law enforcement efforts.
The draft ordinance also defined the meaning of a medical marijuana dispensary and upheld a person’s right to cultivate medicinal marijuana at his residence as recommended by a physician.
The ordinance went a couple steps beyond banning when it also declared the establishment of medical marijuana dispensaries a public nuisance, punishable by law.
The penalty for disobedience is set at a $1,000 fine or imprisonment in the county jail for not more than six months.
The icing on the cake: if the city, Plumas County or the district attorney brings suit against a person in violation of this ordinance, that person shall repay the city or the county for the cost of the suit, including attorneys’ fees, expert fees and other costs.
If that isn’t enough, the ordinance invites the city, the county and the DA to prosecute violations as a criminal offense to boot.
That, in short, is the ordinance as it stands.
Council member William Weaver began comment during the most recent discussion by announcing that through research on the Internet he had discovered that seven California cities, all larger than Portola, had medical marijuana dispensaries.
Mayor Dan Wilson, who was the only “no” vote against the banning ordinance, added that one of them was San Andreas, a city that had located its dispensary next to the sheriff’s office.
Wilson also thought that it was likely that persons who were ill and in need of medical marijuana would probably not be well enough to attend public meetings, thus he thought their interests had not been represented.
He referred to paragraph five of the drafted ordinance as being incomplete or unclear when it refers to marijuana as a “schedule I drug.”
“What I think should be included in here is that a ‘schedule I drug’ or narcotic has to also be a drug which has no known medical value, and that’s not included here.”
He cited a study done in 1974, in which the federal government gave a grant to the medical school of Richmond, Va., to prove that marijuana killed the immune system. Researchers found out the opposite: that marijuana killed brain tumor cells, a special type of leukemia and aggressive breast cancer. Once the results were known, the government pulled the funds from the study.
“I had never heard about this study until 2011,” Wilson said. He said the study was repeated 30 years later in 2004 at the University of Madrid on brain tumors. Researchers got the same results. They discovered that marijuana also helps prevent the spread of cancer throughout the body. In 2006, the same university tested marijuana on aggressive breast cancer and got the same results. It worked on human subjects (“in vivo”) and in test tubes (“in vitro”).
“The cornerstone of this ordinance is the federal law against marijuana — the fact that it’s a schedule I drug or narcotic, and it’s pretty obvious that it has some medical value and it will be overturned in 50 years or at some time,” Wilson said.
Ricky Ross said that he had attended a federal drug testing supervisors’ training program and had asked why marijuana was included on the drug testing. The instructor said the only reason he could figure out why it was included is that it stays in your body for so long. They don’t know the long-term effects, so had to test for it as one of the requirements for getting a Class A license.
Weaver said he had seen on the Internet that there are plans to bottle it in soda bottles.
Larry Douglas asked what the city could do if it passed this ordinance and then changed its mind.
Council member John Larrieu said that the ordinance could be repealed at any time, as could any ordinance. Gross agreed.
Gross also clarified that federal standards were one basis for the ordinance, but it was also based on the testimony of Sheriff Greg Hagwood about adverse secondary impacts that might come with a medical marijuana dispensary.
“Are you talking about the muggings and shootings that will take place in front of the store?” asked Wilson.
“Those were some of the things the sheriff mentioned,” said Gross.
“I respectfully disagree with that attitude,” said Wilson.
He said in bad neighborhoods in large cities, these things could happen in front of a flower shop. He thought the type of neighborhood was more important in drawing these violent acts.
Weaver noted that he had also seen on the Internet that there had been fighting in front of a store on Folsom Avenue in Sacramento.
“My ‘caregiver’ is Portola Village Pharmacy,” said Wilson. “I am not afraid of being mugged when I leave there.”
Wilson followed up with concerns for those who were ill and not feeling well enough to grow their own marijuana. Even when one was well, gardening in this mountain climate is not easy. Or patients are told they can get it on the street.
These answers do not really address the medicinal aspects of marijuana. Wilson found in his research that there are lots of different types of marijuana. He named a type that was useful for insomnia, and another non-drowsy type helpful to HIV patients. “It’s very complex,” he said.
Ross clarified an earlier comment he had made about locating the dispensary along state Route 70. He thought it didn’t represent Portola well in such a visible location, but otherwise he didn’t object to it in a less visible spot.
Wilson then closed public comment. The motion to introduce the ordinance and to place it on a future agenda for adoption then passed 3 to 1, Curt McBride absent.
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