Pinole struggles to fill cannabis club panel

February 24, 2006

Tom Lochner, Contra Costa Times

More than nine months into a yearlong moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries, the city has yet to form a task force to study the issue.

A medical marijuana activist says the city is stalling. City officials insist they are not. The city might seek to extend the moratorium when it expires in the spring, Senior Planner Elizabeth Dunn said.

The council adopted the moratorium this past May after someone queried the city about opening a dispensary. Pinole's zoning ordinance does not address medical marijuana dispensaries, also known as cannabis clubs.

At the same time, the council ordered the creation of a task force to help draft a regulating ordinance. Then-Mayor David Cole said the task force should include "stakeholders" such as a patient and a doctor with expertise in medicinal marijuana.

Although some people were interested in being on the task force, the city could not find a medical professional willing to serve, Dunn said. "We couldn't find one so we put that on hold."

Buzz Fowler, a medical marijuana patient and activist who wants to open a dispensary in Pinole or the vicinity, said he had volunteered by voice mail for the task force. However, he said he had not heard from the city by the time he showed up at a council meeting earlier this month, he said. He attended to question the progress the city had made on the task force. Dunn called him after his appearance at the council meeting, he said.

City Attorney Benjamin Reyes II defended Dunn, who he said currently "is doing the job of three people" because of staffing gaps.

"I don't think that she's being anything less than diligent in putting together a task force," Reyes said.

There is nothing to the notion the city wants to bar any medical marijuana from opening in Pinole, he said.

"My direction was to be able to implement a medical marijuana ordinance that is in compliance with the law," Reyes said. "One that won't be immediately challenged by either the federal government or the Americans For Safe Access," a medical marijuana patient advocacy group based in Oakland.

This past fall, the group sued Concord after its City Council banned the dispensaries. Concord had invoked federal law, which prohibits marijuana use even for medical purposes.

California's Compassionate Use Act of 1996 allows people to use marijuana for medical purposes if a doctor approves.

Reyes said the city also is waiting to see what happens with Americans for Safe Access' lawsuit against Fresno over a medical marijuana ordinance the advocacy group deems so restrictive as to be tantamount to a ban.

Last year, several East Bay cities, including Dublin, Pleasanton, Albany, Pleasant Hill, Hercules, Richmond and San Pablo, enacted moratoriums on the opening of cannabis clubs. Several other East Bay cities did so in 2004.

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