Riverbank halts marijuana stores

March 13, 2006

Inga Miller, Modesto Bee

The Riverbank City Council placed a moratorium on medical marijuana stores Monday night while it sorts out a permanent stance on the outlets. That could range from zoning regulations to an all-out ban.

No dispensaries operate now.

The council voted 4-0 for an ordinance that took effect immediately, putting a halt on land use approvals, building permits and business licenses for any facility that sells, gives away or grows medical marijuana for medical purposes during the next 45days. Councilwoman Sandra Benitez was absent.

"This is where my struggle is right now," said Councilwoman Virginia Madueño, who works on outreach for law enforcement agencies. "I'm working on a campaign right now to try and reduce the amount of marijuana grown in California.…A moratorium says we're delaying this action. We're delaying this action for what? Because there is a chance we will approve it in the very near future?"

The only member of the public to speak, Peter G. Keyes, vice president of the Compassionate Coalition, a Sacramento-based group that defends patients' access to medical marijuana, urged the council to do just that.

"There are two main reasons to pass an ordinance allowing a dispensary. The first is compassion," he said. "Sick people need medicine. Many of these sick people can't grow it alone, although the law states they can; a lot of them are bedridden and may or may not have caregivers, so the dispensaries are critical. And the other reason is the law."

Proposition215,passedby California voters in 1996, allows patients with a doctor's recommendation and their caregivers to possess, use and grow marijuana. But Police Chief Art Voortman cited the conflict with federallaw,whichprohibits marijuana use, even for medical purposes.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last June in Gonzales v. Raich that Congress can outlaw marijuana and federal law enforcement agents can enforce the law in California. But the high court did not decide whether Proposition 215 is valid.

Until the courts resolve that discrepancy, and the city studies its zoning laws, the ordinance states that allowing dispensaries "poses an immediate threat to the public health, safety and welfare." It notes rises in burglary, robbery and illicit drug sales near dispensaries.

Under the ordinance, the city can study the effects it thinks a dispensary would have on the community and wait for a resolution between federal and state law.

At the end of the 45 days, the City Council can opt to renew the moratorium twice.

Bee staff writer Inga Miller can be reached at 578-2382 or imiller@modbee.com.

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