Oxnard expected to ban medical marijuana center

October 08, 2007

Charles Levin , Ventura County Star

The Oxnard City Council will likely vote to ban medical marijuana dispensaries tonight, citing an unresolved legal conflict between state and federal laws.

"We have worked to try and figure it out, but I think it is now to the point where Oxnard is not big enough to take on the federal government," said Councilman Dean Maulhardt, one of two members who hoped the city could allow a dispensary.

"I can't support putting Oxnard in the middle of that conflict," Maulhardt said Monday.

The conflict Maulhardt refers to is this: In 1996, California voters approved the Compassionate Use Act, which allows patients suffering from a host of diseases, such as cancer or AIDS, to use marijuana with a doctor's recommendation.

In 2003, Sacramento lawmakers followed by adopting a law that establishes identification cards for users. Thirty-five of California's 58 counties have implemented the program. Ventura County is not among them.

But the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that federal laws against all marijuana use take precedence over the state initiative.

"The contradiction between the state and federal laws is the problem for us, and we're not ready to get tangled in that right now," Oxnard Planning Manager Sue Martin said Monday.

A San Diego judge ruled in December that the state law is legal, but San Diego County has appealed the ruling.

Oxnard began researching the issue in 2005, after a medical marijuana user inquired about opening a dispensary. Council members adopted a temporary ban on such facilities while city planners, lawyers and law enforcement officials researched the issue.

The panel extended the ban twice. It is set to expire next month.

The city has received at least six inquiries from other users about opening dispensaries.

Meanwhile, a staff report for tonight's hearing cites other problems: Federal drug officers have stepped up raids of known dispensaries. Crime goes up in cities that allow them.

And Ventura County has not implemented the identification card program, also bowing to the conflict over state and federal laws.

Camarillo resident Lisa Schwarz, a former registered nurse and founding member of Ventura County Alliance of Medical Marijuana Patients, said she wasn't disappointed in the city's recommendation.

"And I don't blame them," Schwarz said Monday, citing increased raids by federal agents on dispensaries.

State agencies apparently don't track the number of dispensaries. However, Aaron Smith, a statewide organizer with Safe Access Now, which advocates implementing the California laws, estimates that roughly 400 dispensaries operate in California with some 300 concentrated in Los Angeles County.

Smith said he was disappointed by Oxnard's recommendation, arguing that a permanent ban would violate the spirit if not the letter of state law.

"Oxnard is a subdivision of the state of California, not the federal government," Smith said. "The City Council needs to uphold and implement state laws. They're not an arm of the federal government.



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