Sant Rosa cracks down on pot clubs

April 05, 2005

Paul Payne, Press-Democrat

Fearing that Santa Rosa could become the pot distribution center for all of Sonoma County, the City Council on Tuesday halted the opening of new medical marijuana dispensaries and said it would adopt a law to strictly limit the three existing clubs.

Council members also said they were pursuing sanctions against Resource Green Caregivers and Patients Group, a Sonoma Avenue club that has drawn neighbor complaints about public smoking, heavy traffic and unruly conduct by customers.

'I think we all realize there is a need for medical marijuana,' Councilwoman Janet Condron said. 'Unfortunately, that's been abused.'

By a 5-0 vote, the council said it would form a committee comprised of medical pot advocates, police, council members and residents to study the situation and devise regulations saying where dispensaries can be located and how they must operate.

The city doesn't currently have any laws governing pot clubs.

The panel is to report back within 60 days. At that time, the council could adopt the restrictions or impose an outright ban on pot clubs.

'I have a concern that we're becoming the primary dispensary for the county,' Mayor Jane Bender said. 'It really puts undue pressure on our overworked police force.'

The only other marijuana club in Sonoma County is in Guerneville.

Councilman Mike Martini, who left before the vote, called for an immediate ban on pot clubs until a law could be adopted.

'Given what the police have discovered and what the neighbors have raised, we should ask that the clubs cease activity until an ordinance is in place,' Martini said.

Councilman Steve Rabinowitsch was absent.

The council opted against an emergency ordinance that would have capped the number of pot clubs at two and required the existing dispensaries to relocate.

The moratorium bars new clubs from opening during the next 45 days, with the possibility of extensions.

It also creates a set of interim rules to answer neighbors' most frequent complaints - prohibiting consumption of pot inside or within 150 feet of clubs, limiting hours and forbidding customer loitering or harassment.

Ray Killion, a Resource Green neighbor and ardent critic of the club, said he was pleased with the council action.

Killion said pot club customers routinely light up outside his door, block his driveway and urinate behind nearby buildings. Dispensary owners have done little to solve the problem, he said.

'I'm glad to see they're taking specific action against Resource Green,' Killion said. 'It's probably a good idea to take some time to craft a thoughtful ordinance.'

Resource Green workers declined to comment.

Doc Knapp of the Sonoma Alliance for Medical Marijuana agreed a deliberate approach was needed.

However, Knapp said restrictions on on-site consumption of pot would be a hardship for customers who don't have a convenient place to smoke.

'We have people we can bring to the table who I believe can come up with a solution to this,' Knapp told the council. 'I don't think you'll get any disagreement from the medical marijuana community that this is a very serious issue.'

While the ordinance is drafted, Santa Rosa will proceed with a nuisance abatement action against Resource Green that could lead to sanctions including closure, City Attorney Brien Farrell said.

The city has hired a private investigator and will review videotape made by Killion that reportedly shows misbehavior by customers and employees, Farrell said.

Bender said the pot club has cast a bad light on other medical marijuana businesses, which must now work to improve their image.

'Resource Green has besmudged your reputation,' Bender told an audience that included several dozen pot advocates. 'It really, truly is up to you as an industry' to fix it.

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