Medical marijuana quandary

May 15, 2007

EDITORIAL, Petaluma Argus-Courier

Last week, the Petaluma City Council passed an urgency ordinance to extend a temporary moratorium on dispensaries of medicinal marijuana that has been in place for two years. With only five of the seven council members present at the May 7 meeting, there weren’t enough votes for a permanent ban on dispensaries, and the council split 3-2 in favor of the ban. A fourth vote is needed for a permanent ban, and that is expected to happen when the full council meets to reconsider the issue.

The differences of opinion among council members over the appropriateness and regulation of medical marijuana dispensaries in Petaluma reflect the division between advocates and opponents of medicinal cannabis statewide. The problem goes even deeper: A 1996 law passed by California voters allows for the medicinal use of marijuana, but federal law does not. Cities are saddled with a tough decision of whether to permit a marijuana dispensary to operate, which would be legal under state law, but could be raided and shut down by federal drug enforcement officials.

No pot dispensaries currently operate in the city, but there were problems with a previous dispensary that operated out of a Bond Avenue home several years ago, including an armed robbery.

Medicinal marijuana can provide benefit to patients suffering from cancer and other serious illnesses who find that it gives them relief from pain. But there are also many who don’t have a legitimate medical need for marijuana and who regularly obtain the drug from cannabis dispensaries simply for recreational use.

Mayor Pamela Torliatt and Councilmember Teresa Barrett favor the creation of city regulations that would allow dispensaries to operate in some non-residential areas under tightly controlled permits. But Police Chief Steve Hood said a ban on marijuana dispensaries is the only sure way to avoid the crime, traffic and other problems associated with dispensaries as well as the conflicts between state and federal law over the legality of medical marijuana.

A ban makes it harder for legitimate users of medical marijuana to obtain their supply. However, dispensaries are allowed in Santa Rosa, Sebastopol and unincorporated Sonoma County, so local patients can still obtain medical marijuana in those cities or have it delivered.

Unless and until the state of California decides how cities can properly license and regulate medical marijuana, a ban on such establishments will ensure that limited police resources are not wasted fighting a crime problem we can easily live without.



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