Pot clubs banned in Brentwood till study done

September 14, 2006

Erin Sherbert, Contra Costa Times

City leaders will place a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries while studying the potential impacts of operating them locally.

The City Council on Tuesday unanimously adopted an ordinance prohibiting marijuana dispensaries until the study is complete. The study will consider the potential health and safety effects of cannabis clubs in Brentwood.

Once a study is completed, the city staff will recommend the council either permanently prohibit dispensers or lift the ban, said Heidi Kline, Brentwood's planning manager.

Some council members say they do not feel marijuana dispensers belong in Brentwood, noting that crime could potentially increase in areas where there are cannabis clubs.

"It would be doing a disservice to the community, beside the fact that it is in violation of federal law," said Councilman Bob Brockman.

Congress in 1970 enacted a law making it illegal to import, manufacture, distribute, possess or use marijuana in the United States.

However, in 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215, allowing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

A 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision states the federal government can enforce the prohibition on marijuana in states that allow it for medicinal use.

Local jurisdictions have been stuck in the middle of the federal and state law, as people have continued to approach their cities to open medical marijuana dispensaries, according to Brentwood city officials.

As of August, 71 cities and six counties across the state have opted to temporarily ban medical marijuana dispensers, according to the Americans for Safe Access, a patient-advocacy group.

Some jurisdictions, including Contra Costa County, San Pablo, Livermore, Pleasanton, Antioch, Pinole and Oakley, have a moratorium on cannabis dispensaries, according to the ASA.

Other cities, including El Cerrito, Dublin, Concord and Hercules, have opted to ban marijuana dispensaries.

Martinez has an ordinance regulating dispensaries, and Albany voters will decide in November whether to support a single marijuana dispensary in their city.

The ASA this month released a report saying medical marijuana dispensaries have benefited communities by offering a safe place for patients to get medical marijuana and providing a support system for those patients.

The report, which was based on studies done in cities that have medical marijuana dispensary regulatory ordinances, also states marijuana street sales declined in areas with cannabis clubs.

But local police officers argued that communities with marijuana dispensaries have seen an increase in crime associated with the dispensaries.

"Several cities have had these medical marijuana dispensaries, and they have suffered direct criminal impacts, such as being robbed and burglarized or having clients attacked or assaulted," said Lt. Brian Strock. "There is evidence that it does increase crime."

Reach Erin Sherbert at 925-779-7139 or esherbert@cctimes.com.

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