Contra Costa bars pot clubs

April 13, 2006

Rebecca F. Johnson, Oroville Mercury Record

Cannabis clubs looking to set up shop in unincorporated Contra Costa County are on hold under an ordinance the Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted Tuesday.

The urgency measure, which imposes a moratorium on new medical marijuana dispensaries, went into effect immediately and must be extended within 45 days by law.

Supervisor Gayle Uilkema said the ordinance will give the county time to complete a study on medical marijuana dispensaries and come up with ways to regulate them.

"This is merely a period of time to allow that to happen, and it is not a position one way or the other on the subject of whether such dispensaries should exist," she said.

Although the county began issuing medical marijuana identification cards in December to people who are eligible, Contra Costa had not addressed dispensaries in an ordinance.

Cities across the state, including some in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, have adopted similar ordinances.

One such dispensary, MariCare, relocated from Concord to Pacheco — an unincorporated community — after the Concord City Council adopted a similar moratorium.

But as long as MariCare is operating legally in the correct zoning district, the medical marijuana dispensary may continue its practices, officials said.

"This is a land-use decision. It's not about closing an existing lawful business," Supervisor Mark DeSaulnier said.

MariCare Director Demetrio Ramirez said he thinks the dispensary complies with the law and urged the supervisors to carefully consider medical marijuana, which was legalized by California voters under Proposition 215 in 1996.

"We provide a safe, clean and professional environment where the ill are treated with dignity and respect," Ramirez said. "It is my hope that the Board of Supervisors lead by example and exhibit tolerance and compassion."

Several people attending Tuesday's meeting addressed their need for medical marijuana and asked the board not to prevent them from obtaining cannabis legally by forcing the dispensaries to move elsewhere.

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