Council votes to ban pot clubs

November 07, 2006

Tom Lochner, Contra Costa Times

The San Pablo City Council has approved, with little comment or debate, an ordinance that would ban cannabis clubs citywide.

The vote Monday night was 5-0. Only Councilman Paul Morris commented on the issue, saying the ordinance is long overdue. It will go before the council for a second reading, likely in two weeks, and if approved a second time, would go into effect 30 days later.

No one from the public spoke at Monday's City Council meeting, not even Espo, a self-described pot connoisseur who was in attendance. Espo, who uses a single name, was a candidate for a seat on the San Pablo City Council in Tuesday's election.

"Oh, no, it's OK," Espo said, reacting to Monday's council vote. Espo said he might discuss the matter sometime in the future but he had nothing to say about it Monday.

The absence of any show of public interest on the issue Monday contrasted sharply with council meetings in many East Bay cities just a year or two ago. Medical marijuana advocates argued passionately then in favor of regulating the dispensing of medical marijuana rather than banning it and urged local officials not to cave in to the federal government, which considers marijuana an illegal drug with no medical use.

Americans for Safe Access, an Oakland-based patient-advocacy group, estimates that its more than 200,000 patients in California depend on dispensaries for their medical marijuana.

"The campaign to protect safe access to medical marijuana has not lost steam," said Kris Hermes, the organization's legal campaign director. But, he added, the group counts some 70-plus cities in California that have moratoriums on cannabis clubs and keeping up is difficult for the grass-roots organization.

The organization has filed suits in state courts against several cities that have enacted bans or adopted regulating ordinances so restrictive that the group deems them tantamount to bans.

In 1996, California voters approved the Compassionate Use Act, which legalizes marijuana for medicinal use on the recommendation of a doctor. State Senate Bill 420 in 2003 established guidelines for distributing the drug.

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the federal government's power to enforce federal marijuana even in states such as California that recognize the drug as a medicine for a variety of ailments, including chronic pain, AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, nausea, appetite loss and anxiety.

San Pablo is in the second year of a moratorium on the establishment of cannabis clubs, or medical marijuana dispensaries. In August, the City Council voted unanimously to instruct the city staff to draft an ordinance to ban the dispensaries, citing discrepancies between federal and state law as well as voluminous evidence compiled by the city staff that portrayed cannabis clubs as magnets for crime and other social ills.

A public hearing by the San Pablo Planning Commission in October that ended in an endorsement of a ban on cannabis clubs elicited no public comment either.

Reach Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760 or

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