Y-S saying no to pot clubs

March 05, 2005

John Dickey, Appeal-Democrat

A state referendum may have legalized medical marijuana, but Yuba City is just saying no to pot clubs that would distribute it.

For Mark Hight, 51, of Yuba City, that means driving 100 miles or more to get medical marijuana in Sacramento or the Bay Area if he can't get it locally. He said he uses it to relieve pain from rods in his back and a hip replacement - deep bone pain that feels like someone hit him in the back, the consequence of a worn-out spine from tile-setting work.

The marijuana, he said, allows him to cut back on his pain-relieving methadone.

According to Hight, local government isn't watching out for people like him. He wonders whether older people suffering from cancer will be able to get medical marijuana, or whether they will just go without it if faced with a long drive.

'To me, that's appalling, especially (for) people with cancer who are sick,' Hight said.

Hight said he approached Yuba City, Sutter County and Marysville in January about opening a local pot outlet. However, Yuba City had already changed its zoning to ban medical marijuana dispensaries. It began the process in September. Not long after, on Feb. 15, Sutter County supervisors approved an emergency zoning ordinance banning pot distribution centers. Another hearing is set for March 29. Hight said he was told he couldn't open such a facility in Marysville.

Hight said he still wants to open a dispensary somewhere. He's willing to have it overseen by the authorities. If it causes too many problems, he said, he'll just shut it down.

'I don't want to cause problems,' Hight said. 'I want to help people.'

But some cities are seeing the pot clubs as more hassle than help, allegedly serving as a focus point for illegal activity. That has caused some cities to zone them out of city limits, including Rocklin, Lincoln and now Yuba City.

When Yuba City changed its zoning code to prohibit any kind of medicinal marijuana dispensaries, Richard Doscher, the city's police chief, pointed to crime outside dispensaries in Roseville, Oakland, Hayward and Lake County.

According to Doscher, there's trouble when large numbers of marijuana users, legal and illegal, gather around one place, including robberies outside the shop, marijuana DUIs, burglaries of the buildings, and people smoking pot nearby.

On the other hand, Yuba City's action has drawn criticism from medical marijuana advocates who say it doesn't jibe with what California voters said when they passed the California Compassionate Use Act of 1996. (Sutter County voters rejected Proposition 215.)

Several advocates showed up at Tuesday's City Council meeting, including a representative from the American Alliance for Medical Cannabis. They watched the council vote into effect new zoning that allows licensed clinics, hospices and other health-care facilities to give out marijuana but bans pot clubs.

Although it's one thing for cities to restrict dispensaries, the zoning ordinance passed Tuesday violates state law by listing primary caregivers as dispensaries, said Steve King of the Compassionate Use Group of Sutter and Yuba.

'But banning them totally and saying a primary caregiver is a dispensary when it's written into state law, that's a part to be argued in court,' said King, an Olivehurst resident. 'Or the people of Yuba City need to vote in new people to change the law.'

Doscher disagrees with King's analysis. The police chief said people can still grow a certain number of marijuana plants if they're doing it in accordance with state medical marijuana laws, possess a certain amount, and take care of two to three people.

However, he said, the city does not consider someone who supplies marijuana to hundreds of people, like some cooperatives do, to be a caregiver.

Doscher said authorized cancer patients can still grow their own.

'All we're saying is you can't open up a dispensary when the purpose is supplying marijuana to multiple people,' Doscher said.

Appeal-Democrat reporter John Dickey can be reached at 749-4711. You may e-mail him at jdickey@appeal-democrat.com.



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