Thursday, January 28, 2010

St. Helena council wants pot dispensary rules

It could soon become legal to open a medical marijuana dispensary in St.

On Tuesday the city council voted 4-1 to direct staff to draft
regulations concerning marijuana dispensaries as quickly as possible.

City staff had asked the council to consider an urgency ordinance
placing a moratorium on new medical marijuana dispensaries, which are
not prohibited by current city regulations.

But councilmembers said any potential applicants should just hold off
until the regulations are adopted.

Calistoga last fall grappled with the same issue and placed a temporary
moratorium on the dispensaries. In early January the Calistoga City
Council again faced the issue and is currently drafting an ordinance to
extend its current prohibition on the dispensaries for an entire year.
Unless its moratorium is extended, it will expire in April.

City Councilmember Eric Sklar said his father, who died last January of
pancreatic cancer, benefited from medical marijuana.

“If it wasn’t for medical marijuana his last months would
have been miserable in a way they didn’t have to be,†said

He said the city should adopt an ordinance within six to eight weeks
that would regulate how and where marijuana dispensaries could operate,
as well as how to handle any leftover product.

“We don’t want Bob Pestoni’s pigs getting stoned
from eating it out of the garbage,†Sklar joked. Pestoni is the
owner of Upper Valley Disposal Service.

In 2009 the city granted a business license to Napa Valley Marijuana
Growers, an Internet business operated by St. Helena resident Crane
Carter that sells marijuana-themed hats and T-shirts, but not marijuana

Planner Shelley Mills said the city has received an inquiry about
establishing a marijuana dispensary in St. Helena.

Carter, a vocal advocate for the legalization of marijuana, urged the
council to adopt an ordinance to regulate marijuana clinics and provide
easier access to medical marijuana for patients and hospice workers.

“There’s millions of people out there who can’t
speak as I do,†said Carter. “They’re at risk from
their insurance companies or their employers. I’m speaking for a
lot of people.â€

Carter said he would consider opening a dispensary, but he’d be
willing to wait for the council to adopt new regulations.

Mayor Del Britton cast the only vote opposing a new ordinance. He said
the city should look at the issue as part of its General Plan Update.

“I don’t have a problem with marijuana, but my fundamental
problem is can we do this somewhere else besides downtown?†said
Britton. “I just don’t like the idea of a marijuana shop

Sklar said that question will be part of the council’s discussion
as they craft the new ordinance.

Councilmember Bonnie Schoch said the city can model the new regulations
on similar laws adopted successfully in other cities.
“Let’s not re-create the wheel,†she said.

Attorney General Eric Holder has said the federal government, which
still considers marijuana illegal, will not prosecute marijuana clinics
and patients who are operating legally under state laws.

The California Supreme Court recently shot down restrictions that
limited how much marijuana patients who are authorized to use the drug
are allowed to possess.

Neighboring cities have been dealing with the same issue.

Last August the Napa City Council voted to allow marijuana clinics in
the city, but ruled that new clinics will have to wait until the city
adopts regulations this summer.

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