Tracy orders marijuana club closed

November 30, 2006

Mike Martinez, Tri-Valley Herald (CA)

TRACY — It wasn't exactly what Tracy City Manager Dan Hobbs had in mind for his "greening of Tracy" plan.

The medical marijuana dispensary, which opened under the nose of city late last month on the outskirts of downtown Tracy, has been ordered to close.

Although there is nothing in the city code specifically banning medical marijuana dispensaries, there's also nothing that allows them. The Valley Wellness Center Collective was ordered to "discontinue the non-listed use of distributing medical marijuana" in Tracy on or before Dec. 5.

"Each day that the conditions exist is a separate violation of the (Tracy city code) for which citations (administrative and otherwise) may be issued in conjunction with this order to abate or show cause," Pat Zona, a city code enforcement officer, wrote.

City officials said the group misrepresented itself on its business license. The collective said its activity would be "retail sales conducted by a nonprofit corporation."

Dispensary officials declined to comment on the advice of their lawyers.

Bill Sartor, assistant city attorney, said the sale of medical marijuana isn't a listed use under the city code.

He said the store never should have opened and the city would prefer they shut down before the deadline, because they are out of compliance.

"It was unlawful yesterday, its unlawful now and unlawful tomorrow," Sartor said. "If a hearing officer ruled it was lawful, I might have to revisit that a little later, but I don't see that happening."

In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215 — the Compassionate Use Act — providing the seriously ill with the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes.

In July — three days after opening for business — the Opera House building manager asked the owners of the West Valley Resource Co-Op to move out and they were gone the next day. It was the first cannabis club in San Joaquin County. The Valley Wellness Center Collective is the second.

According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, therapeutic uses from smoking the plant are well-documented. Marijuana provides relief from nausea, stimulates appetite and weight gain, and helps combat glaucoma, according the organization's Web site.

Phil Urie, a deputy District Attorney with San Joaquin County, said the way the county interprets the law, the retail sale of marijuana, even those who have a doctor's recommendation, is not legal.

He said other counties throughout the state that allow storefront sales are wrong, as dispensaries are outside the realm of the proposition.

"The law simply does not allow the sale of marijuana," Urie said. "People are allowed to posses and cultivate it, but they can't buy it. It's a huge hole that's always been there in Prop. 215. There is no legal mechanism for obtaining marijuana."

Hobbs idea for the "greening of Tracy" involves the creation of additional park space and the legal planting of trees and grass.

Mike Martinez can be reached at (209) 832-3947 or at mmartinez@trivalleyherald.com.



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