Council votes to block pot clubs

July 14, 2006

Wes Bowers, Fremont Bulletin (CA)

Fremont City Council Tuesday unanimously voted to ban medical marijuana dispensaries in Fremont.

The vote comes as the city's moratorium on the issue, enacted in late 2004, expires on Sept. 28. State law indicates that once the moratorium expires, it cannot be continued, according to city reports.

Currently, federal laws view marijuana as having no accepted medical use. Under federal law, the cultivation, possession and distribution of the substance is illegal.

However, in 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act, which protects qualified patients and their primary caregivers from prosecution under state law for possession or cultivation of marijuana and its use as a medicinal substance.

However, this is only to treat a serious illness with a doctor's recommendation.

City of Fremont staff reports state that conflict between the two levels of law continue with no resolution in sight.

Staff recommended that Fremont City Council enact an ordinance prohibiting the establishment of medical marijuana dispensaries, consistent with federal law.

Council member Bob Wie-ckowski initially believed the ordinance was too overbearing.

"The voters passed a proposition to allow dispensaries in California," he said Tuesday. "I'm concerned that our prohibition will go too far in not allowing dispensaries. I'm cognizant of the abuses that go on, but will this ordinance allow a hospital or hospice care center to dispense medical marijuana as a treatment?"

Wieckowski said the definition of a dispensary excluded hospitals or hospice care facilities. He envisioned a cooperative agreement between hospitals and a temporary facility on hospital grounds.

However, Fremont Police Chief Craig Steckler said marijuana, under federal laws, is strictly illegal.

"The voters did not vote for dispensaries," he said. "The proposition said you could possess it and cultivate it, but you could not distribute it.

"But, there is no intention in Congress or the Supreme Court to change federal law," he added. "We, the Fremont Police Department, will enforce federal laws, which state it is illegal to possess, sell and dispense marijuana."

Steckler said that currently 22 California cities have banned the dispensaries, while 24 cities are regulating them.

Additionally, 66 cities are still in a decision-making mode over the issue, he said.

Shortly after the passage of Proposition 215 in 1996, several dispensaries attempted to open in San Francisco, Oakland and Santa Cruz, but the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency closed the dispensaries.

In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that "there is no medical necessity exception to the prohibition against possession and use of marijuana under federal law, even when the patient is Ôseriously ill' and lacks alternate sources of relief."

In 2003, the state legislature passed Senate Bill 420, the Medical Marijuana Program.

That legislation created a voluntary system for patients and caregivers to obtain identification cards issued by counties, which insulated them from arrest in regards to state marijuana laws. However, it did not authorize the establishment of dispensaries, even though several people attempted to open them.

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