Sacramento Ordinance to Dispense Medical Marijuana Considered

February 08, 2005

, Sacramento Union

Sacramento Supervisors inched toward developing an ordinance that would permit a limited number of medical marijuana dispensaries to operate within county boundaries. Most of Tuesday afternoon was taken up with a largely-rational discussion of a much debated topic that convinced supervisors the proposed ordinance was not ready for public scrutiny.

Board members received a report from a county task force that outlined details of how the county might safely permit the operation of two dispensaries to serve medical needs in the region. The report covered topics such as licensing care providers, hours of operation, location restrictions, and how the cannabis could be dispensed to people with authorized medical prescriptions. The county is about mid-way into a 12-month moratorium on implementing any changes to current ordinances.

Central to the discussion was a case pending in the U.S. Supreme Court that will rule on a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals injunction that stopped the federal government from interfering with Angel Raich’s use of medical marijuana. Under California law (The Compassionate Use Act passed in 1996) her use of the substance was legal, pitting state law against federal law. Raich vs. Ashcroft, closely watched by states and medical marijuana advocates, should be decided sometime this summer.

Supervisors voiced concern that an ordinance adopted now would ultimately be impacted by the outcome of the federal case. “I would not want to see people invest money that might be seized by the federal government,” said Supervisor Susan Peters of providers who could establish distribution centers.

Although much of the afternoon’s discussion avoided testimony about the merits or drawbacks of using marijuana to relieve some physical conditions, representatives from law enforcement were on hand to object to any proposal that would permit dispensing the substance. Arguments ranged from increased street crime to negative impacts on businesses near dispensaries.

“We firmly believe this threatens the public safety in our community and fosters criminal activity,” said Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully.

A representative from the Drug Enforcement Agency, however, said marijuana use and distribution would get tough treatment from federal authorities. “It is no longer a harmless or soft drug,” said Gordon Taylor from the DEA. “Marijuana remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance.”

He warned that purveyors of medical marijuana, growers and even users would be subject to arrest and prosecution. In addition, he said that owners of property where dispensaries are located could have their property seizes by the feds.

Supervisor Illa Collin asked if earlier testimony that marijuana is a bigger priority for the DEA than stopping the production and sale of methamphetamines is true. Taylor responded that his agency is “charged with enforcing federal laws” and agreed that meth is a serious issue in the Central Valley.

Advocates of medical marijuana mainly focused on the details of the draft ordinance. A Carmichael pharmacist told the board that marijuana should be handled like other drugs – with requirements for quality, potency and purity, and proper labeling. A dispensary owner from Oakland testified that his business had no negative effects on nearby businesses and others talked about the unmet needs of suffering patients in the Sacramento region.

So much new information was presented to supervisors that they directed the task force to add more detail to its proposed ordinance and to expand its membership. The pending Supreme Court decision also swayed supervisors to postpone outreach to community groups about the ordinance. Board chairman Roger Dickenson, however, felt an urgency about the measure.

“I think we ought to move ahead. I don’t think the Supreme Court decision is likely to resolve this,” he said. “As we wait there are real people out there, suffering real pain.” The task force was directed to report back to the board in three to four months.

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