Scenic route to denying pot club
April 10, 2006
Matthew Artz, ANG NewspapersWith a yearlong moratorium to expire in July, city leaders are set to slam the door on medical marijuana dispensaries for the foreseeable future.
Today, the City Council will consider a law that would require any permit, authorization or license issued by the city to "be consistent with both state and federal law."
Because federal drug laws prohibit medical marijuana, the city ordinance effectively would outlaw dispensaries — the most common way licensed marijuana users obtain the drug.
"It's not an outright ban, but in the short term, it would make it difficult if not impossible to operate a dispensary," Deputy City Manager Tony Acosta said.
He said the city does not want dispensaries while cases still are pending in state and federal courts on medical marijuana issues.
The proposed ordinance is a new legal tactic to outlaw dispensaries, said Kris Hermes, legal campaign director for Americans for Safe Access, which has lawsuits pending against several California cities that prohibit dispensaries.
"We would see this as a de facto ban and strongly oppose such action by the city," he said.
Robert Raich, an attorney who represents dispensaries, charged the ordinance was "vaguely worded" and effectively would make city permit clerks the arbiters of state and federal law. "Union City is practically buying a lawsuit down the road," he said.
Since state voters passed the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 legalizing medical marijuana, dispensaries in the East Bay have spread from Berkeley south to Hayward but have not been permitted in Union City.
In March 2005, the council, after learning that a dispensary had applied for acity permit, passed the first of three moratoriums temporarily outlawing it. Fremont also has a moratorium against dispensaries.
The moratoriums, according to Hermes, force many licensed medical marijuana users in the two cities to travel north to obtain the drug legally.
About 30 percent of the customers of the Hayward Patients Resource Center are from Union City and Fremont, said Tom Lemos, the dispensary's owner.
Union City police Chief Randy Ulibarri maintained that allowing dispensaries would strain police resources.
"Based on the experience that Hayward has been having, without a doubt there would be crime issues if the dispensaries came to Union City," he said.
Dispensaries remain a legal gray area in California. A state law passed in 2003 entitles licensed patients and caregivers collectively to grow marijuana, but it makes no mention of dispensaries.
In previous votes, the council has been nearly united against dispensaries, and it appears poised to pass the ordinance.
"I still don't believe Union City should have one," Councilman Jim Navarro said. "I've always been anti-drug, and that is still my stance today."