City bans pot shops in Auburn

March 01, 2006

Niesha Lofing, Sacramento Bee

Medical marijuana dispensaries were banned from Auburn by the City Council during a public hearing Monday night.

In a 4-1 vote, the council changed the municipal code to add the citywide prohibition and to nullify a 2004 zoning ordinance designed to regulate the location of dispensaries.

City Attorney Michael Colantuono said the change only affects zoning and should not be misconstrued as the city taking a stance on the use of medical marijuana.

"This is a zoning ordinance, not an ordinance regulating people's personal conduct," he said. "We're simply talking about a zoning amendment to prohibit dispensary use."

The council first considered changing the ordinance last October, after a Supreme Court decision in the summer of 2005 upheld the position of the federal government that marijuana is an illegal controlled substance.

While state law permits the use of marijuana for some medical purposes, it doesn't authorize dispensaries. Instead, the use and regulation of dispensaries is left to local municipalities, retired city Police Chief Nick Willick said during a previous interview.

Several cities in Placer County, including Roseville, Rocklin and Lincoln, have chosen to ban dispensaries.

The Auburn Planning Commission held a public hearing on the issue in January, where members voted 3-2 to ban dispensaries.

Councilman Keith Nesbitt, who voted against changing the ordinance, said he is an advocate of the state's compassionate-care laws and doesn't like the federal government infringing on a state and local issue.

"I'm voting against this because I don't think the federal government has the right to undermine the people," he said.

Councilman Bob Snyder, with Councilwoman Bridget Powers concurring, supported the city ban, saying, "The federal government should be making the decision."

Few people in the audience Monday night spoke out on the issue. Only one of the five who spoke to the council, City Clerk Joseph Labrie, was from Auburn.

Labrie, who asked the council to hear his comments as a citizen and not as the city clerk, said he doesn't understand the desire to ban dispensaries, especially since no dispensaries had been proposed for Auburn.

"It's not hurting anybody, so just leave it alone," he said, referring to the previous city ordinance that would have allowed dispensaries in certain locations.

Ryan Landers, California state director of the American Alliance for Medical Cannabis, asked the council to examine the issue more closely before making its decision.

"What you intend to do now, which is a land-use issue, can become an issue with a patient getting their medication," he said.

Police Chief Valerie Harris said she surveyed six businesses to see if they would mind having a dispensary located next door.

"The response from all of them was they would not be in support of such a business opening," she told the council.

Councilman Kevin Hanley said much work is being done to strengthen the city's business districts and that a dispensary opening next to a jewelry store or restaurant would "have a deleterious effect to the business districts."

"I, for one, favor the proposed ordinance," he said. "It's good for all the things we're trying to do right now."

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