Modesto Council: No new stores for pot

April 05, 2005

Todd Milbourn , Modesto Bee

No new medical marijuana dispensary may open in Modesto through at least February, under a measure passed Tuesday night by the City Council.

With the measure, the council bought itself more time to consider its options for regulating such stores — including an outright ban that would shut down two stores already in business.

For now, though, they can stay. The measure approved Tuesday night simply extends a 45-day moratorium that the council enacted March 8. The two dispensaries are California Healthcare Collective at 1009 McHenry Ave. and Green Pole Alternative Center at 204 McHenry Ave.

The vote was 6-0; Councilman Will O'Bryant left before the vote.

Dozens of people paraded to the pod-ium to voice their support for medical cannabis, relating stories of how marijuana helped ease muscle pain and reduce nausea.

Many of the pleas described how important it was for patients to have local access to their medicine.

City staff already is drawing up a ban on marijuana stores, and City Attorney Michael Milich said the proposal would come up for discussion in coming months at a meeting of the council's Safety Committee.

The vote on the marijuana ordinance capped a six-hour meeting that touched on everything from sewer improvements to "leapfrog" development to discussions about the value of consultants.

Among the more pressing matters, the council directed internal auditor Gary Nienhuis to investigate allegations of misappropriated funds in the city's wastewater collections division.

The probe comes in response to letters from Stanislaus County District Attorney Jim Brazelton, who wrote that a criminal investigation of the division in the fall uncovered "significant irregularities," possible conflicts of interest and poor oversight.

Brazelton wrote that he was particularly concerned about a $338,000 transfer made by a wastewater employee in 2004. City officials say that they do not believe the money is missing.

The scope of the inquiry will be narrower than the "performance audit" called for by Brazelton. Nienhuis called it "agreed-upon procedures." He said it would provide answers more quickly than an audit.

"The main thing is to get at the facts and come back and report to the council," Nienhuis told the council. "Based on the findings, you can decide what you want to do, if you want me to dig deeper."

In other action, the council voted 7-0 to approve:

A $4.4 million adjustment in the Public Works Department budget to provide money to fix deteriorating sewer lines near Memorial Medical Center, which is in the midst of a major expansion. Peter Cowles, director of Public Works, said money for the repairs was supposed to come from sewer fund reserves, but that money dried up partly because of legal costs.

Public Works will free up funds for some of the repairs by delaying the purchase of equipment on other projects. Memor-ial already has paid its share of the project, $439,000.

A contract for City Manager George Britton. Britton, hired on a 5-1 vote in March, will keep his annual salary of $154,010. Britton served as acting city manager after the departure of Jack Crist, who was fired by the council without public explanation in September.

Also, the council delayed a scheduled discussion of proposed roundabout intersections in the Sylvan Union School District. The issue was pushed back as the council meeting approached midnight and most of the audience had gone home.

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