Officials take pot (road) trip

July 14, 2006

Michael Fitzgerald, Columnist, Stockton Record

The mayor, vice mayor and a police lieutenant visited a medical

marijuana dispensary in Sacramento recently. Afterward, the vice

mayor sprang for Junior Mints.

Seriously, afterward, they grappled with the idea of a medical

marijuana dispensary in Stockton.

Their struggle with this issue is, to put it kindly, protracted.

California voters approved the Compassionate Use Act in 1996.

Certainly, it's a ticklish issue; yet communities all around Stockton

have responsibly faced this challenge.

The most recent is Ripon. Hardly a hotbed of hippies, Ripon's council

introduced a medical pot ordinance earlier this week. The final vote

on it is Tuesday.

The visit by Stockton officials suggests city leaders are finally

seriously researching pot clubs before deciding whether to permit one

to open in Stockton.

Mayor Ed Chavez, Vice Mayor Gary Giovanetti and Lt. Dennis Smallie

visited the River City Patient Center in Sacramento.

Besides its appropriate location in a semi-industrial area, the club

boasts an armed guard, strict requirements to show a medical marijuana

card and a whole lot of pot.

"It just seemed weird to be seeing them pull out drawers of little

canisters of marijuana," said Giovanetti, fascinated. "It's such a

taboo kind of thing."

The vice mayor added the club sells marijuana in canisters, brownies,

cookies and liquid form.

But to get to the point, "It didn't seem like it's a rogue, criminal

enterprise," Giovanetti said. "All the customers looked pretty normal."

Smallie agreed. "It seemed like it was a very well-run facility."

The Stockton contingent also met with Sacramento narcotics officers

who said they tried to sting the club but found it operated legally,

as far as they can tell.

Giovanetti still has concerns. What if a corrupt Stockton doctor

writes prescriptions to all comers?

There are several good answers to that. Corrupt doctors falsely

certify healthy workers eligible for workers' compensation, too.

Worker's comp remains legitimate.

And numerous Stockton doctors, including oncologists with reputations

above reproach, are quietly writing medical marijuana prescriptions to

needy patients.

It bears repeating that the National Academy of Science studied

marijuana in 1999 and found it had legitimate medical uses.

Besides, what if some potheads do manage to buy their pot from a well-

managed pot club instead of through pushers? Weakening pushers, the

modern equivalent of Prohibition gangsters, doesn't sound like such a

bad thing.

Chavez, who was formerly Stockton's police chief, said the trip eased

his qualms somewhat.

"I think we can definitely say that it increased an openness toward -

I'm looking at other issues - but certainly being more open toward

it," said Chavez.

The mayor said he's asked city staff to answer his lingering

questions. Within a couple of weeks, he hopes to have enough

information to make a decision.

"Personally, I'm not at the point where I'm yea or nay on it," Chavez

said.

Kudos to those who made this fact-finding trip. Facts, scientific and

legal, not politics and prejudice, are the way to find the right

policy on a Stockton dispensary.

The politics are there, though.

California voters approved Proposition 215 statewide, but conservative

San Joaquin County voted it down.

On the other hand, District Attorney James Willett released a position

paper saying he'll allow a medical marijuana dispensary, as long as

it's nonprofit.

His sensible recommendations for investigating cultivation and

possession of marijuana cases also instructs officers to lay off

Proposition 215 growers and users - as long as they can show their ID

cards and prescriptions, and don't have too much pot.

The date of this memo's release also shows the district attorney has a

sense of humor. He released it on April 20, 2006 - 4/20. 420 is a

widely known code word for pot.

Contact columnist Michael Fitzgerald at (209) 546-8270 or

michaelf@recordnet.com. Visit his blog at

online.recordnet.com/blogs/blogs.php



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