Patterson to weigh barring pot clubs

April 03, 2006

Michael Mello, Modesto Bee

Seeking to head off what they see as a potential magnet for crime and blight, Patterson city administrators have put before the City Council an urgency ordinance that temporarily would prevent any marijuana dispensaries from opening within the city limit.

Police Chief Tyrone Spencer said he's bringing the matter to the City Council's attention because other California cities have reported increased crime in neighborhoods with marijuana clinics, and he would like to head off any potential problems.

The cities of Newman, Riverbank and Turlock have passed similar ordinances; Modesto has banned "pot clubs" outright.

No one has come forward, but Spencer said he worries. "Patterson is a location that could be targeted" by a clinic applicant unless a moratorium is passed.

Other cities, he said, "have had instances of people (with prescriptions) buying marijuana and selling it to people who don't have prescriptions." In addition, he said, there's evidence that organized-crime groups use pot clubs to launder money.

There's also the discrepancy between California law, which allows doctors to prescribe marijuana for some patients, and federal law, which generally bans the drug.

Spencer said his deputies do not arrest patients who consume marijuana with a prescription, but that he considers its sale against the law. Patterson patients with prescriptions can buy enough for their needs from Bay Area dispensaries, he said.

2 council members lean toward approval

Councilman Sam Cuellar said Monday that he hasn't decided which way he'll vote at today's meeting, but "I'm probably inclined to go along with the recommendation unless there was strong public support the other way." He added that he thinks it makes sense to impose a moratorium, and then "see what arguments come up."

Councilwoman Becky Campo said she's sympathetic to people who would like to use marijuana for medicinal purposes, but feels California law is too vague and isn't wellregulated.

Campo said she likely would vote for the ordinance and see whether the Legislature or voters come up with a different medical-marijuana law.

Though someone may buy the drug with a prescription, "You don't know what they'll do with it," Campo said. "Somebody might sell it and it could wind up in my kid's hands."

The urgency ordinance would have to be approved by four of the five council members and would remain in effect for only 45days. The council, with another four-fifths vote, could extend the ordinance for as long as a year, but may not extend it more than twice.

Spencer said the urgency ordinance would keep any pot-related businesses from opening while federal courts decide the legality of California's laws.

Adam Verhaegen, who lives in Crows Landing but works in Patterson, said he supports the rights of terminally ill patients to use marijuana, believing it can alleviate their suffering. However, he said, selling marijuana in Patterson isn't a good idea.

"I don't know if I could endorse putting a pot club here," he said. "It brings a lot of people you really don't want in town."

Rosa Gonzalez of Patterson said she shares Spencer's concerns about the potential for crime around a dispensary.

"That's not good," Gonzalez said. "It's a small town and quiet. I want it to stay that way."

The City Council is to meet at 7 p.m. today inthe council chamber, 48 North Salado Ave.

Bee staff writer Michael Mello can be reachedat 578-2235 or mmello@modbee.com.



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