Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Council ready to light up pot law

Tuesday October 21, 2008

By Dana Yates

San Mateo should move fast in implementing a new medical marijuana law so patients and caregivers have a clear understanding on what's allowed, the City Council said at a special study session last night.

The council discussed a draft ordinance to require medical marijuana collectives to register through the Police Department and meet certain security and business regulations. The council directed city staff to pursue such an ordinance after the Police Department and federal agents shut down three medical marijuana dispensaries approximately one year ago. The city ordinance is expected to bridge the gap between the vague 1996 state law allowing medical marijuana.

"Overall, I support this and want to move forward as fast as possible so people know what they can and what they can't do," said Deputy Mayor Brandt Grotte.

Approximately seven members of the public — collective owners and patients — attended the meeting to urge the city to adopt the ordinance. Patients said the ordinance would allow collectives to reopen in the city and prevent them from turning to the streets to purchase marijuana.

"People need their medicine. Give us an opportunity to do it and do it right," said Ruben Muniz.

Patients also asked the council to consider the needs of sick patients who do not have the ability to travel far for medication.

"My father was a cancer patient. He was thrilled to be able to find his medication in town," said a tearful Charloa Burker. "He was thrilled and he was treated so well at the Second Avenue dispensary."

Burker's father died last year.

For the most part, the proposed ordinance would regulate the "collective" cultivation of medical marijuana. Collectives are places where people pool their money and time to grow marijuana in one central location. Dispensaries simply distribute and are already prohibited by law.

While state law allows collectives, it places few limits on the activity and some cities, like San Mateo, are taking steps to fill the void.

The ordinance would require collectives to register with the Police Department to prevent law enforcement mistakes by informing officers where lawful cultivation of marijuana is taking place.

It would also require collective growers to obtain a license, so the city could adequately address neighborhood impact. People who grow marijuana on their own property for personal use will not be subject to the new requirements, according to the report.

The ordinance will establish conditions to address safety and security. The ordinance will prohibit advertising of the activity, smoking marijuana on site and sale of marijuana at the collective. It will require security lighting, alarms and that the marijuana be grown indoors, according to the report.

The ordinance will prohibit collectives from being anywhere in the city except manufacturing and service commercial areas, according to the report.

City officials were asked to address medical marijuana collectives last year after three were shut down in raids that occurred Aug. 29, 2007. Two owners attended last night's meeting and told the council the Drug Enforcement Agency raided their businesses but never charged them with a single crime.

California voters passed Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act, in 1996, allowing sick patients to either grow their own marijuana or have a primary caregiver grow it for them. In 2003, the state legislature passed the Medical Marijuana Program Act to clarify vague portions of Proposition 215.

Cities remain stuck between the vague state law that allows medical marijuana and federal law that prohibits it.

Following last year's raids, law enforcement officials claimed the clubs were not acting as collectives. Owners and directors of the clubs argued they are collectives because members are pooling their money for marijuana, providing a safe place to buy it and access to resources about using it.

The council will revisit the ordinance later this year.

Dana Yates can be reached by e-mail: dana@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.

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