Brentwood leaders asked to consider marijuana dispensary

January 11, 2011

Rowena Coetsee, Contra Costa Times

A Brentwood resident hoping to open a medical marijuana dispensary in town returned to a City Council meeting this week with supporters to plead their case.

Lee Reisch and three other speakers exhorted council members to consider their request, pointing out that Oakland and Richmond, where patients legally can obtain the drug to ease pain, nausea and other symptoms, are simply too far away for those who live in East Contra Costa.

Leo Hudson, a resident of an Antioch convalescent hospital who's confined to a wheelchair, said he was apprehensive about going to Richmond because of the crime in that city.

"(Marijuana) helps me a lot -- it takes a lot of my pain away," said the multiple sclerosis patient, noting that it eliminates the need for Vicodin. "A lot of medications that I take are not good for my body. I just need you guys to stand behind us. Please help us."

Considerably angrier was Kim Cue of Americans for Safe Access, a national organization of health care professionals, scientists and patients whose goal is to make it easier to obtain marijuana for therapeutic and research purposes.

She vehemently protested the city's ban on facilities that distribute marijuana for medicinal use, saying it violates a 2004 state law that clarifies and expands the rights of qualified patients and their caregivers pertaining to marijuana use.

"It's absolutely atrocious," Cue said, adding that legitimate users shouldn't have to come to City Council meetings to defend their rights. "This is an absolute waste of patients' time."

But the ordinance that Brentwood adopted in 2008 also references Senate Bill 420, which states that it doesn't supersede laws prohibiting people from engaging in activities that endanger others.

The city based its ordinance on this provision, noting in its findings that other California communities with medical marijuana dispensaries have experienced an increase in burglaries, robberies and violence as well as illegal sales and use of the drug by minors.

Reisch, who's filming a documentary chronicling the history of marijuana legislation and its use in industry, takes the drug himself to relieve anxiety. He also grows it and provides it to Hudson and other patients.

He also spoke before the council last month asking it to consider a dispensary.

Along with getting permission to open a facility where the ill could present a doctor's letter to get their doses of cannabis, Reisch wants to establish a collective. These membership-based patient groups help each other cultivate, process and distribute the plant in return for donations.

Given the less-than-enthusiastic reception he's received from council members so far, however, he doubts that any will agree to put the matter on a meeting agenda for a formal discussion.

"I don't think they're going to listen to me," Reisch said. "This is not a health care matter to them."

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