Council tables medical-marijuana ordinance

December 07, 2006

John V. Ciani, Daily Independent (CA)

The Ridgecrest City Council last night voted to table a proposed ordinance regulating the operation of medical-marijuana dispensaries in Ridgecrest.

City Manager Harvey Rose said the proposed ordinance was amended in accordance with the council's wished from its Nov. 15 meeting.

“There's going to be an impact whether it's in the county or in the city,” said Police Chief Mike Avery.

He said a 55-page document from the California Police Chiefs Association talked the secondary effects of medical-marijuana dispensaries in their communities. It included two incidents in Kern County and Bakersfield. The report lists several incidents involving medical-marijuana dispensaries in several cities and counties throughout the state.

According to the report, Drug Enforcement Agency officers and Kern County Sheriff's deputies arrested three subjects in raid on the Free and Easy cannabis dispensary in Bakersfield Sept. 8, 2005. Kern County sheriffs summoned the DEA after being called to investigate a robbery at the facility. Police found plants growing at one subject's home plus 20 pounds of marijuana, and illegally possessed firearms.

In July 2005, the director of American Kenpo Kungfu School of Public Health was arrested for cultivating more than 2,000 plants at three different locations. He was charged with conspiracy to distribute and possess more than 1,000 plants. The offenses carry a minimum of 10 years in prison.

“There's no way I can quantify what that impact is going to be on the police department, but I can tell you it will impact our job. We're going to have to respond to more incidents because of this, whether it's loitering around the medical-marijuana dispensary to people illegally selling off their portion.” Avery said.

He said while in the course of his duties as assistant city manager, a maintenance worker found a medical-marijuana prescription bottle in the Skate Park.

“I cannot tell you if it came from the local one, but I can say is our kids have had access now to that, and that concerns me greatly,” he added.

When Mayor Chip Holloway opened up the item to public comment, 17 people - six for and 11 against - the proposed ordinance came to the microphone.

Dr. Everett Witzell was the first to speak against the ordinance.

“It's a sad day for health if indeed our city has a dispensary for marijuana,” he said. “We do know, unfortunately, that smoking marijuana causes more quicker emphysema. It's a sad, sad day when we will permit something that's illegal by the federal government to be in our city.”

Epicurean Delights Compliance Officer Don Blakemore said his facility has been in operation since July.

“The Constitution of the state of California was amended in 1996 by Proposition 215, which made medical marijuana legal,” he said. “We're not here about placing a place of intoxication in our city. We have those rampant in our cities. We're talking about a place where needy people can come to get safe, regulated medication and take it home. It's a place where certified patients only can come and get their medication, and if kids are getting a hold of their parents' medication, I'm concerned about that too.”

Blakemore said the medical-marijuana bottle found in the Skate Park did not come from his dispensary. “We don't sell it in bottles.”

St. Michael's Episcopal Church Rector and Indian Wells Valley Christian Ministers Fellowship President Rev. John Paul Wadlin said the fellowship opposes the distribution of marijuana in the city.

“When I came to this town four-and-one-half years ago and rode with the police department, one of the big problems they had was tracking down the distribution of marijuana, and I cannot see how we can expend our manpower and resources in the police department to try to stamp out and eradicate the distribution of marijuana while on the other hand supporting the distribution of marijuana.”

Resident Al Huey suggested the council continue its moratorium.

“Many cities have established moratoriums while additional data is gathered. There are several lawsuits ongoing in the state of California, and some with the federal government,” he said. “I think it would be wiser to stay under the umbrella of a moratorium as long as you could and gather information and maybe where this issue is going to come down legally speaking.”

Another resident, Don Post, told the council his wife is a medical-cannabis patient.

“She's also a 100-percent disabled veteran. She's taken a multitude of other drugs for her problems, and medical marijuana is the one thing that really helps her,” he said. “Medical marijuana is a legal drug in California. I think if we ask those patients to go to Lancaster or Bakersfield to obtain it so as not to send a mixed message to our children, this audience would be of a different opinion and attitude. I believe that a chicken-little approach to this issue would be a travesty to these individuals who do not nave the means or ability to drive three or four hours round-trip to obtain their legal medication.”

Resident John Sandt told the council he was a police officer in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.

“The Constitution says federal law pre-empts state law,” he said. “It's true that people in California passed a law, but it ignores the fact that they're in conflict with federal law. It doesn't matter what you do.”

Jean Throckmorton said she lives with constant pain but opposes the medical-marijuana dispensary.

“I believe we need to address chronic pain as much of the medical profession does - through proper diet, exercise, programs of therapy that work,” she said. “I believe making it legal in the city will only make it more available to everyone. It is a really bad idea for our city to go on record saying that we approve of distributing marijuana in any form.”

Resident Dorothy Brown spoke in support of the proposed ordinance because she said it gives the chief of police jurisdiction over dispensaries in the city.

“I think the chief of police should have control within his jurisdiction of the medical-marijuana dispensaries, unless he would like it in the county where he has no jurisdiction, where he cannot keep an eye on things,” she said.

“Nobody has said that marijuana does not work for some people. Nobody has accused those of you who use this drug of doing it illegally,” said Walt Maurer. “My personal opposition to this is very simple - it's called public endangerment.”

Mayor Pro Tem Steve Morgan said his position on the ordinance is unchanged.

“I think there has been presented more evidence, and I think that as time rolls on, we would get more and more evidence to show not that we do not believe in the Medical Cannabis Act of 1996, but rather it is just not appropriate within the confines and the borders of the city of Ridgecrest.”

“I feel we do have a legitimate need for medical marijuana,” said Councilmember Ron Carter. “Research, I believe, indicates that. I talked to a lot of medical doctors. I've talked to a lot of patients. I haven't changed how I feel about helping these people.”

Councilmember Dan Clark suggested tabling the item.

“Originally when this came across our desks, I was absolutely opposed to it,” said Councilmember Dan Clark. “Then listening to attorneys and talking to staff, and if we said no we would be sued. That was a major concern of mine.”

He said the city wrote an ordinance, and the council went through it with a fine-tooth comb to try to regulate something the council is uncomfortable with.

“Now the police chief has submitted a 55-page document that we have to read that is saying the police chiefs in the state of California had some real concerns,” said Clark. “Now I don't know what I want to do again. I'm not willing to vote on this one way or the other.”

“It seems like every argument you can make that we should have it, there's another argument that says we shouldn't have it,” said Vice Mayor Tom Wiknich. “I have a real problem putting our police department into a situation where we have a federal law that says you can't do it, and state law says you can.”

Holloway said the meeting was the third major discussion on this issue.

“The real issue in my mind is do we want this facility in the city or in the county,” he said. “If I have to pick my poison, it's better to have it in the city so at least I can regulate it. I have more factual evidence as to whether that's a good choice for the community, and I have a responsibility to protect the community.

“I doubt very seriously that you will find one person in this audience who doesn't want to reach out and help every individual in this room who testified that they need this product,” said Holloway. “I think this ordinance for this dispensary is tight. I think you are well regulated. I think you will do the right thing.”

He said he agreed with Clark's approach to delay action on the ordinance.

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