Oxnard balks at drafting medical marijuana law

May 15, 2007

Charles Levin, Ventura County Star

Oxnard City Council members Tuesday balked at drafting a law to allow medical marijuana dispensaries to operate.

Council members Dean Maulhardt and Andres Herrera said they were sympathetic to the idea and needs of patients who could benefit from medical marijuana. But the entire panel expressed concerns over an unresolved legal conflict in the use of medical marijuana.

State voters approved the Compassionate Use Act in 1996. The law allows patients suffering from a host of diseases, such as cancer or AIDs, to use marijuana with a physician's authorization. State lawmakers also approved a bill in 2003 establishing an identification card system for medical marijuana users.

But the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that federal law trumps the state initiative. A San Diego judge in December ruled that the state law is legal. San Diego County, which sued the state over the initiative, has appealed.

Still, that legal standoff and lack of resolution by the courts coupled with several unsavory findings in a staff report was enough to deter the panel from instructing staff members to draft an ordinance to allow dispensaries. Another reason was that Ventura County has not implemented the ID card program yet.

The city's report found that dispensaries could be regulated and fill a need for patients. But the report also cited increased crime in cities with dispensaries and many unanswered questions about regulatory oversight.

"At this juncture, there are too many negative impacts" in allowing dispensaries, Assistant Police Chief Jason Benites said.

Several speakers urged the council to allow dispensaries, saying they could be regulated. Less than 5 percent of the state's 400-plus dispensaries are responsible for problems, said Lisa Schwarz with the Ventura County Alliance of Medical Marijuana Users.

Oxnard currently has a two-year interim moratorium on allowing dispensaries. Maulhardt asked the city's planning and legal staff to continue monitoring the issue and report back in November when the moratorium is set to expire.

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