Friday, December 19, 2008

City Council favors medical marijuana dispensaries

December 19, 2008

Special to the Sun
Sierra Jenkins
Medical marijuana may soon be another product you can buy locally – if you have a permit, that is.

At Wednesday's meeting, the Sonoma City Council took further steps toward setting up a licensing system that would allow a medical marijuana dispensary to open in Sonoma. The license would be a one-year permit, renewable upon verification of compliance and revocable at any moment if holder is non-compliant. Dispensaries could not be located within 100 feet of single-family residences, schools and parks. Growing or consuming marijuana on-site would be prohibited and the city would have the authority to do a third-party audit.

The council voted 4-1 for the city staff to move forward, with councilmember August Sebastiani against the measure.

Qualified patients can currently legally grow the plants within the city, according to state law. However, many patients don't necessarily have the know-how so many patients currently drive to Santa Rosa or San Francisco for their prescriptions.

Sonoma resident Rosalee Jalo, who was diagnosed with lyme disease in 1992, asked council to make dispensaries available in the city. "I've tried many medicines, all had side-affects," said Jalo. "I have to drive 45 minutes when I'm feeling very ill. It's a great burden for me."

John Sugg, who has operated a dispensary in Santa Rosa for the past three years, said he had many customers driving from Sonoma. "There's all this driving back and forth that could be prevented. It would be a green solution," he said.

A local lawyer who served on the Sonoma County Task Force on the Regulation of Medical Marijuana, vouched for the safety of the facilities. "The largest dispensary north of San Francisco is located in Santa Rosa. In three years, there was not a single call for law enforcement around it. The oldest dispensary, operating for niine years in Guerneville, just three occasions has law enforcement been called, in contrast to a saloon down the street which averages 41 calls a year."

The council first took up the dispensary issue in 2007 and subsequently voted 4-1 to develop a work project to allow medical marijuana dispensaries to be established in Sonoma. California began to allow the legal use of marijuana for medical uses in 1996 when voters passed Prop 215. Locals can currently obtain medical marijuana in Santa Rosa and Cotati.
City planner David Goodison said that the police chief and the city prosecutor are against allowing dispensaries, concerned about the potential abuse of the system and some safety issues that had been occasionally reported in other communities such as DUIs and loitering.

August Sebastiani was the only councilmember in disagreement with moving forward. "It is not a debate over the effectiveness of the medicinal properties. My heart goes out to those folks for whom this is their only alternative," said Sebastiani. "There are at the same time recreational uses, and I worry that allowing medical marijuana dispensaries sends a message to those recreational users that this drug might be more available and less dangerous recreationally speaking than it actually is. I certainly feel that way with my own children."

The city staff will move ahead on defining the licensing process to be brought before the council again at a later date.

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