South City moves to regulate weed

March 22, 2006

Heather Murtagh, San Mateo Daily Journal

South San Francisco stepped up to set some medical marijuana  guidelines California left out when making the substance legal, like which groups should grow it and where, at its City Council meeting Wednesday.

The South San Francisco City Council unanimously — but begrudgingly — approved the first reading of an ordinance which sets regulations like securing growing plants and who should be allowed to grow pot altogether.

Some residents voiced concerns over the proposal saying it is like an endorsement of the drug use and could lead to other problems. A few called for more checks and balances and still others asked the council to let the public decide in a vote.

Without the ordinance, people within the city would enjoy the freedom without the city having the ability to regulate the use.

“To do nothing only worsens the situation. … The ordinance is not perfect, but it’s better than nothing,” said Vice Mayor Richard Garbarino.

The problems are rooted with the lack of regulations passed with the initial act 10 years ago.

“What happened is the state passed all these laws to decriminalize [medical marijuana] and left cities and counties to regulate it based on their culture,” said Alan Normandy, planning sergeant for the South San Francisco Police Department.

In 1996, California voters passed the Compassionate Use Act permitting the possession and cultivation of marijuana for medical use. On Jan. 1, 2004, Senate Bill 420, the Medical Marijuana Program, specified the extent of the law.

Last year, South City had an application to open a marijuana dispensary in the city. At the time, however, no city regulations were in place. Instead of a vote either way, the city decided to place a moratorium on the idea until it could research the topic and put its own rules in place.  

The moratorium is almost over and cannot be renewed, said Assistant City Attorney Peter Spoerl.  

Under state law, three groups of people are allowed to have or grow pot: a primary caregiver, a person with a valid cannabis identification card and a person entitled to medical marijuana who hasn’t received their ID card.

Normandy said state law is so open right now a person allowed to have medical marijuana could grow it in their front yard. The regulation would require such plants to be secured so kids or passersby wouldn’t be tempted to steal it.

The law allows collective cultivation but does not define it or regulate it. The city would define this as any group of people, allowed to grow marijuana, who decided to do it together. It could also be someone who is a caregiver to multiple people, growing and giving it to them.

Anyone wishing to do this would need to be permitted and located in a place more than 500 feet away from a residential neighborhood and for no more than 10 patients, according to the city’s ordinance.

These rules would not allow a distributor to just come into the city with the intent to grow and distribute pot. Normandy said there are common sense regulations. A caregiver might take care of people in one immediate household but chances are, they aren’t caring for 20 or more people, he said. Such distribution places are not protected under state law anyway.

The ordinance will come back for a second reading and final approval by the City Council at an upcoming meeting. Once in place, the council directed staff to continue to research new developments in the law that would allow it to create stricter regulations.

Heather Murtagh can be reached by e-mail: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105. What do you think of this story? Send a letter to the editor:

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