San Pablo enacts 45-day ban on cannabis clubs

May 17, 2005

Tom Lochner, Contra Costa Times

The San Pablo City Council has put a 45-day block on cannabis clubs to enable officials to craft an ordinance to regulate their location, opening hours and operation.

The city's zoning ordinance does not address cannabis clubs and no city rules require a use permit to open a dispensary or add it to an existing business, City Attorney Brian Libow told the council.

Resident Espo -- he uses a single name -- who lost a November bid for a City Council seat, had recently queried the city about opening a 'High Times Pot Club' across San Pablo Avenue from Casino San Pablo. He predicted it would give businesses a boost in addition to providing a service.

'The sweet aroma (will) give people the munchies,' Espo wrote to the city. 'They'll buy more food, more tacos; taxi drivers would be flying around; people would do more gambling.'

Because it was presented as an urgency ordinance, requiring a four-fifths vote of the council, the moratorium went into effect immediately. Monday's vote was 5-0.

Only two members of the public spoke. Espo said 'I love you, California' but little else. Mayor Joe Gomes wondered if Espo's pot club would exist 'for medical, or other purposes.'

Buzz Fowler, who runs a medical marijuana delivery service and says he has customers all over Contra Costa County, suggested the city find a way of getting into the dispensary business itself.

The passage in late 2003 of SB420, which allowed marijuana distributors to be reimbursed for their time and effort, spawned numerous entrepreneurs around the state who 'buy ... cheap and sell extremely expensive.'

'They buy Porsches, boats ... big houses,' Fowler said. 'They don't fix our roads or feed the homeless.'

He recommended Doctors Medical Center and hospitals in general become distributors of medical marijuana. Since medical marijuana users have medical problems, having a dispensary at the hospital makes sense, he said.

Doctors spokeswoman Gisela Hernandez said a marijuana dispensary 'hasn't been an item on our radar.'

City Councilman Leonard McNeil said the urgent action troubled him.

'This legislation was passed in 1996,' McNeil said. 'Why has it taken the city nine years to come up with a policy?'

Libow replied that no one had inquired about opening a dispensary in San Pablo until Espo did.

Proposition 215, passed by voters in 1996, allows people to grow and possess marijuana for medical use if recommended by a doctor.

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