Medical Pot Advocate Seeks Dispensary

March 08, 2007

Tony Burchyns , Gilroy Dispatch

Morgan Hill - A medical marijuana club wants to open in town, but city officials need more time to weigh the burning issue.

The Morgan Hill City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to enact a 45-day moratorium on the establishment of medical marijuana dispensaries, but council members want the issue carefully examined before allowing, regulating or banning local distribution of the drug for seriously ill patients.

The issue cropped up after a man who claimed to be from South County made inquiries last week at City Hall about opening a medical marijuana dispensary. Because the city has no ordinance on the matter, administrators asked the council to enact one.

The man, who identified himself as Mike Henderson, 53, wore a shirt imprinted with cannabis leaves and donned a thick handlebar mustache. He told the council Santa Clara County is one of the driest regions in the Bay Area for medical marijuana patients.

"There are a lot of people in Santa Clara County, in Morgan Hill and San Jose, who have to leave this area and go up north to San Francisco, Berkeley, Hayward, Alameda County, San Mateo, or head south over Highway 17 to Santa Cruz to get their medicine," Henderson said. "All I am trying to do is help these people with their needs."

Henderson said he feels compassion for victims of cancer and AIDS who are "in dire need" of medical pot and use it on a daily basis "whether they get it here or not." After the meeting, he said he has no involvement in existing cannabis clubs in other municipalities.

Under voter-enacted Proposition 215, "The Compassionate Use Act of 1996," some patients and caregivers are allowed to use marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. But federal regulations clash with state law. In 2005 the Supreme Court ruled Congress has the power to prohibit private cultivation and use of medical marijuana under the U.S. Constitution's commerce clause.

It's unclear if the ruling preempts California law, and litigation on the politicized issue is expected to continue.

The Morgan Hill Police Department is concerned medical marijuana dispensaries may threaten public health, safety and welfare, according to a written report prepared by City Attorney Janet Kern. The report lists problems from other communities with pot clubs, including burglaries, illegal drug dealers hanging around the clinics and patients driving under the influence of marijuana.

Morgan Hill resident Mike Green, speaking before the council, said he feared a pot club could be a burden on police officers.

"A valid point would be, do we have the law-enforcement capabilities to handle some of the issues that would come about with something like that," Green said, adding he wouldn't like to see a medical marijuana dispensary in town.

No council member said whether he or she was opposed to allowing pot clubs.

Mayor Steve Tate, who joined the council meeting by phone from Arizona where he's on vacation, said, "there's just more questions than answers right now."

Councilman Larry Carr said the number of people who need medical marijuana in South County should be researched before the city passes an ordinance.

There are no medical pot clubs in Santa Clara County, but there are hundreds around the state and dozens in the Bay Area, according to California National Organization for the Reform Marijuana Laws, a non-profit group dedicated to reforming cannabis laws.

Longtime Santa Cruz City Councilman Mike Rotkin said the city has had no problems or complaints since opening its two dispensaries within the last year and a half.

Rotkin, a UC Santa Cruz community studies lecturer who first joined the council in 1979, noted Santa Cruz's ordinance regulating pot clubs requires the police department to regularly inspect the facilities.

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