A shift in values

January 14, 2007

EDITORIAL, Santa Cruz Sentinel

For the first time, since Californians authorized the use of medical marijuana, Watsonville is being asked to come to grips with the implications of the 10-year-old law.

The issue comes to a town that for more than 20 years hasn't even allowed tattoo artists to operate except under the direction of a physician.

Now city officials have received inquiries from parties interested in opening not only a medical marijuana dispensary, but a tattoo parlor and a head shop to sell pot paraphernalia as well.

No doubt about it, Watsonville's changing, in part, as Councilman Oscar Rios noted during a discussion about the question, because hundreds of homes built in recent years have attracted new residents with higher incomes. That in turn is drawing entrepreneurs hoping to cash in on the economic growth.

For longtime residents, however, the change until now has hit home most on increasingly congested city streets.

But proposals to open a pot pharmacy here point to the potential for a shift in values. After all, Watsonville, with its Latino majority and that community's emphasis on traditional cultural values, isn't Santa Cruz, where in 2003, six of seven council members participated in a pot giveaway to patients on the steps of city hall in response to a federal raid on a local medical marijuana farm.

Tuesday, the City Council imposed a 45-day moratorium on the establishment of outlets selling medical pot, paraphernalia and tattoos. The idea is to give the city time to craft rules related to such businesses, of which the most controversial will certainly be the aspects dealing marijuana use.

Councilman Antonio Rivas, arguing that the city has enough problems with drugs and alcohol as it is, called for the strictest possible rules.

Rios sees the 45-day delay as a chance for community conversation.

We agree. There's enough gray in the medical marijuana issue to paint a small battleship.

We have long supported the rights of the sick to have access to a drug that may ease their pain. But we've also acknowledged the awkward nature of the 1996 law, which has put the state into conflict with federal law and opened a window for the healthy to secure an otherwise illegal substance.

Zach Friend, Santa Cruz police spokesman, said despite the best efforts of the management of the medical marijuana dispensary in his city, prescription pot has ended up in the hands of those without medical need.

Though voters statewide overwhelmingly approved the medical marijuana law, we believe it's up to Watsonville residents to decide whether a pot clinic is appropriate for their town. We encourage them to take advantage of this opportunity to discuss the issues — and to inform their elected officials of their wishes.

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