Novato enacts ban on pot clubs

December 07, 2010

Rob Rogers, Marin Independent Journal

Novato has become the latest Marin municipality to place a temporary ban on the establishment of new medical marijuana dispensaries within its borders. The Novato City Council voted 5-0 Monday to approve the 45-day moratorium, arguing that the city needed time to develop appropriate regulations for any future dispensaries. The council acted on the advice of City Attorney Jeffrey Walter, who made a similar argument in advising the town of Corte Madera to adopt a moratorium on Nov. 8.

"A moratorium (which can be extended up to) two years allows us the opportunity to explore what we want to do, obviously with the oversight of the state and federal government," Councilwoman Pat Eklund said.

While state law allows the creation of medical marijuana dispensaries -- a provision of 1996's Proposition 215 -- Novato officials say the town's municipal code offers no provision for them. That hasn't prevented at least two unlicensed dispensaries from setting up shop within the town's borders, Police Chief Joseph Kreins said.

"A few of them have cropped up, and when we've learned about them, we've sent our code enforcement officer to put them on notice," said Kreins, who believes the establishment of a marijuana dispensary would be a health and safety hazard for Novato.

"If you look around the county, outside of Fairfax, you see burglaries, vandalism and serious assaults" near marijuana dispensaries, Kreins said. "One man in Sausalito was assaulted and almost killed. There are serious activities associated with them."

Kris Hermes disagrees. Hermes, a spokesman for the Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access, said well-regulated medical marijuana dispensaries rarely attract crime, and urged Novato to follow the lead of other California communities such as Albany, Berkeley, Cotati and Sebastopol, which have developed laws governing the clinics.

"We like to emphasize that more than 40 municipalities have adopted regulatory ordinances that recognize the need for local dispensaries and set up licensing schemes to allow for them," Hermes said.

Kreins agrees that a few towns, such as Fairfax, have found ways to regulate and even tax local marijuana dispensaries without incident. Yet even Fairfax, which became California's first municipality to license a medical marijuana clinic in 1997, passed a moratorium on new clinics on Oct. 6.

"I think people who have a legitimate need for medicine, whatever that medicine might be, should have a right to it," Kreins said. "The problem is that a lot of (dispensaries) don't follow the rules. They tend to be for-profit entities, which is illegal. And when you see a line of 18-year-old kids standing outside their door -- and I don't think there are that many 18-year-olds with back problems -- you know the system is rife with abuses."

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