Union City extends its moratorium on pot clubs

July 28, 2005

Barry Shatzman, Oakland Tribune

Though medical marijuana patients legally are allowed to inhale the drug that relieves many of their symptoms, they shouldn't hold their breath waiting for a place to buy it in Union City. The City Council voted Tuesday to extend a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries in the city for another year — the maximum state law allows. Citing the 'unsettled legal landscape,' including the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing federal laws regarding medical marijuana use to trump state law, city officials said they need more time to study the impact of dispensaries. The City Council first passed a moratorium in March, and asked city staff members to return with an ordinance that would specify conditions for a dispensary moving into the city. Councilmember Richard Valle left the meeting before the 4-0 vote was taken, saying he needed to be at the Hayward City Council meeting. Before leaving, he chastised city staff members for their recommendation and for not providing an ordinance. 'In terms of practical medical use for people who are severely or terminally ill, most will agree it's a good thing. And so did the voters (when passing the state's Compassionate Use Act in 1996). Twelve plus four months is already 16 months. If I'd seen something in four months, I might be inclined (to accept the moratorium).' Valle said later he would have voted against his colleagues had he been present for the vote. City Manager Larry Cheeves said that a draft ordinance had, in fact, been prepared, but he was seeking the council's advice on whether this was an appropriate time to introduce it. 'We don't want to take an action that is going to be overturned or subject us to a lawsuit,' Cheeves said. Councilmember Jim Navarro said he needs to understand the issue better, having become aware of the 1996 act only about 11/2 years ago. He also said that business owners where the city's first dispensary was to open — in an industrial area off Whipple Road — told him they were not informed the dispensary was coming. The subject, however, was reported by The Argus in March, when the City Council first considered it. And Shane Carter, the dispensary's operator, said he had walked around the surrounding area, telling people of the type of business he was operating. Carter, himself a medical marijuana user, said he wanted to open the dispensary in order to provide a safe and comfortable place for patients to go. It's they who will suffer the most from this, he said. His attorney, Robert Raich, has twice argued medical marijuana cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. Raich said he does not think the city is likely to approve a dispensary within its borders in the near future. 'From what I've seen, it appears the City Council doesn't have much sympathy for the plight of patients in Union City,' he said. Barry Shatzman can be reached at (510) 353-7003, orbshatzman@dailyreviewonline.com.

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