Pasadena police, planners will seek ban on 'pot clubs'

March 19, 2005

Gary Scott, Whittier Daily News

zPASADENA -- Pasadena police and planners want to prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries, or 'cannabis clubs,' from locating within the city, saying such establishments breed crime and degrade neighborhoods.

They cite as evidence a report from Mark Siemens, police chief of the small Northern California town of Rocklin. Siemens compiled a list of complaints from four city police departments where pot clubs exist.

His report paints a picture of illicit drug dens that attract an 'underground culture' of street criminals, drug dealers and 'dopers.


A dispensary in Hayward sold hashish, the report states, and one in Roseville let people smoke pot inside the facility. Residents of Upper Lake complained 'the people coming to Upper Lake for marijuana look like drug users ('dopers'),' the report continues, and a shoe store in Oakland saw its business drop when a club opened next door.

Based on these accounts, police and planners will ask the Pasadena City Council tonight to implement a 'temporary' ban on dispensaries, clubs and cooperatives unless and until the state or federal governments sets tough regulations for sales.

'Currently, the state has almost no controls on how (medical marijuana) is dispensed, who can operate dispensaries, or where they can be located,' city Planning Director Richard Bruckner said Thursday.

Janet Pope, spokeswoman for the Pasadena police, said the primary concern is that marijuana will get into the wrong hands, though she acknowledged authorities here are also wary about having to navigate conflicting state and federal laws.

California voters passed Proposition 215 in 1996, giving doctors the right to prescribe marijuana for certain chronic ailments. Five years later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled distribution of medical marijuana was illegal.

State lawmakers responded with legislation reasserting a patient's right to use the drug by necessity, and this was followed by another Supreme Court case, still pending, that will test whether the federal government can prosecute patients with a prescription.

Councilman Paul Little said he would prefer the City Council wait until the court rules before taking up the issue of a ban.

'Pending the resolution of that issue, I don't know whether it is something we need to be spending any time on,' Little said.

The city's Planning Commission took up the ban earlier this year. It decided to support the prohibition, but left open the possibility of permitting dispensaries once regulatory issues have been settled.

'If it was going to turn out to be something similar to a pharmacy, we definitely would want to take a second look at it,' Bruckner said.

The Pasadena Public Health Department weighed in, voicing support for the ban while acknowledging marijuana is a 'legitimate therapy for specific disease conditions.'

'We recognize there are legitimate users and we don't want to limit their access to care,' said Dr. Takashi Wada, the city's Public Health Officer. 'On the other hand, we acknowledge that there could be very serious negative secondary consequences, which we found in speaking with other jurisdictions throughout the state.'

Wada said he surveyed area hospitals, HIV clinics and hospice organizations to see if there were patients who might be affected by a ban. 'None of them currently prescribe marijuana,' he said.

There are no medical marijuana dispensaries in the San Gabriel Valley.

Daniel Abrahamson, director of legal affairs for Drug Policy Alliance, a group that supports medical marijuana, counseled the city against adopting a ban.

'To ban dispensaries sends a strong message to anyone who wants to make a quick buck in the black market,' Abrahamson said. 'It is sort of a dangerous, misguided approach to those who want to protect the public health.'

Abrahamson said there are well over 40 cannabis clubs in California and roughly 100,000 medical marijuana users nationwide.

Eleven states had adopted medical marijuana laws since 1996.

Abrahamson said there is no clear trend in how California cities are treating the dispensaries issue, though cities in Northern California, particularly the Bay Area and near the Oregon border, are more accepting.

The city of Ontario, in the Inland Empire, adopted a moratorium on marijuana dispensaries last week.

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