Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Ventura County Reconsidering Stance on Medical Marijuana
Ventura to consider nonprofit medical pot outlets
By Kevin Clerici
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
The Ventura City Council indicated this week that it's willing to
take a serious look at allowing medical marijuana collectives to operate
legally in the city.
Medical marijuana patients hailed the decision, but top city and police
officials cautioned that pot clubs could pose enforcement and regulatory
challenges and bring increased crime.
After a long discussion and impassioned public input, the City Council
voted unanimously Monday night to enact a yearlong moratorium on medical
pot operations as it studies how to craft language allowing nonprofit
collectives, which typically are operated by medical marijuana users and
focused on patient care.
Pot dispensaries, on the other hand, are often run like for-profit
stores and should not be considered, said Councilman Ed Summers, who
made the motion.
"I really believe there are valid medical uses," said Summers,
who favored a yearlong ban to allow further study despite some
people's concerns that such a ban would send the wrong message.
Los Angeles has been overwhelmed with dispensaries capitalizing on
loopholes because the city "didn't do it right" when it
drafted its rules, Summers said. Ventura's temporary ban, he said,
would "start the clock ticking while the city develops the right
No city or unincorporated area in Ventura County currently allows
medical marijuana operations. Some cities, including Moorpark, Oxnard
and Thousand Oaks, have adopted temporary moratoriums. Camarillo just
extended its ban. Simi Valley enacted a permanent one.
The Oxnard City Council explored allowing dispensaries when it enacted a
moratorium in November 2005 but later backed down because of unresolved
conflicts between state and federal law.
Dozens of medicinal marijuana patients and supporters filled Ventura
City Hall on Monday, urging the council to give them a fair shake.
Although their comments were limited to two minutes, patients shared
stories of how medical pot has helped them cope with pain and lead
productive lives. They complained about how they have to drive to Santa
Barbara, Malibu or the San Fernando Valley to buy their medicine.
Backers, stressing the medical benefits and how legal outlets could
provide a potential financial windfall for the city, urged the council
to show compassion and create a regulated, taxed program for nonprofit
marijuana collectives under Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act
of 1996. The act permits patients to legally use medicinal marijuana in
Attorneys who specialize in medical marijuana laws volunteered to help
the city devise rules.
"It can be done, it should be done, it needs to be done," said
Duke Smith, a longtime patient, former Los Angeles pot club operator and
founder of Citizens for Safe Access, an advocacy group.
Although Mayor Christy Weir and Councilman Jim Monahan said they
preferred a permanent ban on any form of pot outlet, both ultimately
supported the moratorium and potential legalization process, which would
have to return to the council for adoption by a majority vote.
Afterward, the mayor said pot clubs would be a "disservice" to
the community and Police Department. "I'm usually in favor of
shopping locally, but these establishments would do more harm than good
in our community," she said.
Council members Brian Brennan, Carl Morehouse and Neal Andrews
disagreed, voicing support for the careful crafting of new regulations.
It was time the city "treat the issue with the dignity and respect
it deserves," said Brennan.
Recent polling shows more than half of Californians support legalizing
and taxing marijuana, and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder pledged in
March to no longer take action against medical marijuana dispensaries if
they comply with state and local laws.
Ventura City Manager Rick Cole expressed concerns about how the city
would enforce new rules and warned that pot outlets, even ones run by
well-intentioned owners, could cause complaints from neighbors and
Police Chief Pat Miller told the council he didn't have the
resources to regulate or monitor a new program and that other
communities have experienced problems with such clubs. "Any time you
have a lot of money involved, you have a lot of people coming out the
woodwork to make it and take it," he said.
The California Police Chiefs Association has said that marijuana clubs
across the state are little more than fronts for drug dealers.
Prosecutor Gregory Brose of the Ventura County District Attorney's
Office urged the city to develop rules to block dispensaries, which, he
said, were illegal.
Pot patients agreed. Instead, they pointed to the four nonprofit
collectives in Oakland that are operating legally and with city permits
— and cited a new tax on them supported overwhelmingly last week by
Oakland voters to help the cash-strapped city. They argued Ventura could
charge higher licensing fees to pay for increased city and police
oversight, require on-site security, and mandate that the clubs be far
away from schools and homes.
After the council decision, some patients said they were so accustomed
to rejection that they were unsure whether to believe Ventura was
serious about creating a legal path, particularly with the mayor's
opposition. Others were encouraged, giving each other high-fives and
"I hope tonight's vote was a serious and meaningful step to
providing Venturans with lawful and safe access to medical
marijuana," said Jay Leiderman, a local criminal attorney who
volunteered his services to the city. "One year is a long time to
freeze an issue and study it, and I hope all the positives from
tonight's meeting don't die a slow death in bureaucratic
Councilman Andrews, who worked in the healthcare industry for 35 years,
said state law encourages local governments to help make distribution of
medical marijuana safe and affordable for seriously ill patients.
"It's time we take that direction, embrace it and find the right
solution for our community," he said.
http://www.venturac ountystar. com/news/ 2009/jul/ 29/ventura- to-consider- no\