Medical pot shop debate still burning
January 04, 2007
Aaron Swarts, Tri-Valley Herald (CA)TRACY — From start to finish, the hearing to decide whether or not a cannabis club is allowed under the city code was an emotional, combative and insightful reflection of the debate surrounding the use of medical marijuana in California.
The Thursday afternoon hearing, held in a small conference room in city hall, pitted Assistant City Attorney Daniel Sodergren against Oakland Lawyer James Anthony, with a backdrop of local medical marijuana users.
Jeanne Schechter, chief deputy city attorney for Merced, acted as the hearing officer who will be rendering a decision on the matter in the coming weeks.
Sodergrens argument — that the Valley Wellness Center, 130 W. 11th St., immediately cease dispensing medical cannabis to the public — was twofold.
Sodergren explained that because the property owner and the tenant were found in violation of the city code, and only the tenant appealed the findings, the lease was void because the property owner was still in violation.
If there isnt a legitimate lease, the Wellness Centers position is irrelevant, Sodergren said.
Sodergren also stated that although the Wellness Center has similar functions as other businesses in town, there is nothing in the city code that allows for its operation.
This hearing might be a bit premature, because this issue should probably be decided by the Planning Commission and City Council, Sodergren said. It would be up to them to expand the code to allow cannabis
Anthony said the city officials needed to take another look at their own code.
The zoning code allows for pharmacies to dispense medicine in accordance to the law. I dont see how this is any different than Walgreens or Longs. They are providing a medication in accordance with the law, he said, noting that local pharmacies already sell drugs that contain the active ingredient in marijuana.
I dont think Longs has to go to the zoning department every time a new drug comes on the market.
Anthony also pointed out that according to the code, the only retail businesses that need permission to specifically operate in downtown Tracy are limited to those that sell, fuel, ice, hay, grain, feed, tombstones and auto accessories.
The city is clearly in error and they are abusing their discretion, Anthony said. There is nothing in the city code that states the Valley Well-
ness Center cannot continue to operate.
Bernadette Zachariah, one of the property owners, said she did not want the building used in any illegal way.
We would not have rented the building to them if we had been aware they are going to be providing medical marijuana, she said. We dont want to be involved with breaking the law in any way. We were under the impression that they were going to be providing herbal products and vitamins.
At the close of the hearing, Zachariah added that the outcome of the process would factor into her decision about the building and her controversial tenants.
I wouldnt be opposed to maintaining them as tenants, as long as no laws are being broken, she said.
Before the hearing was adjourned, a number of local medical marijuana patients with maladies ranging from cancer to severe back pain, asked to be heard.
Some broke down in tears as they explained that medical cannabis provides a variety of pain relief and other benefits that cannot be found in more mainstream drugs.
Among those speaking was Manteca resident Scott Smith.
There has got to be a way for patients to be able to access their medication locally, Smith said, adding that it prolonged his fathers life when he was dying of cancer. It makes you want to eat when you are going through chemotherapy. There are no other drugs that do that.
Both Anthony and Sodergren will submit arguments on the lease issue, and the hearing officer will make her decision.