Officials Vote To Create Medical Marijuana City Department

October 25, 2005

, NBC-11 TV

Santa Cruz officials voted to create a city department to coordinate the dispensing of medical marijuana and vowed to fight federal drug regulators in court to win final approval.


The city council voted 4-2 on Tuesday to create the Office of Compassionate Use, a five-member advisory board that would coordinate medical marijuana distribution within the city.


Co-sponsored by Mayor Mike Rotkin, the ordinance will help the city ensure that qualified patients get the drug as local and federal authorities spar over the legality of medical marijuana, officials said.


Rotkin said that the office would likely contract with pharmacies to provide the drug.


"I don't think anybody's upset with the idea that a pharmacy can sell codeine," he said. "Why wouldn't medical marijuana be distributed the same way?"


California law has allowed medical marijuana use since voters approved Proposition 215 in 1996.


But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this summer that the federal government can continue to prosecute users. Santa Cruz leaders say the office will only be established with federal government approval, meaning they fully expect the proposal to lead to litigation.


Rotkin said the American Civil Liberties Union and a local cooperative, Wo/Men Alliance for Medical Marijuana, a 200-member group that was raided by federal agents in 2002 approached him about the idea.


The groups said the expected legal fight following the vote would be an effective way to test state control over medical marijuana distribution.


"I am excited, and I applaud the city council for its creativity and bold decision to put the issue squarely before the courts in a way that is not reckless," said Allen Hopper, senior staff attorney with the Drug Law Reform Project, an ACLU program.

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