Watsonville council rejects bid for medical pot dispensary

October 23, 2007

Donna Jones, Mercury News (San Jose)

The Watsonville City Council banned the sale of medical marijuana in a 5-1 vote Tuesday, noting that patients have relatively close access to pot dispensaries in Santa Cruz.

Santa Cruz is home to two dispensaries that sell medical marijuana to patients taking the drug under Proposition 215, also known as the Compassionate Use Act. The initiative was passed by California voters in 1996.

But city planning staff recommended against permitting such dispensaries here, saying they could increase crime and create neighborhood problems. Staff also noted the conflict between state and federal law. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency continues to enforce federal drug laws that prohibit marijuana possession, use or sales despite the state statute.

Councilwoman Kimberly Petersen called the conflict "unfortunate."

"I personally would like to see some allowance to consume marijuana under the Compassionate Use Act," she said. "But I don't necessarily want to see dispensaries."

Other council members agreed, saying they didn't want to send a mixed message to youth and that the city's residents could go to Santa Cruz to obtain the drug for medicine.

"Most people have  compassion for those in pain, and if (medical marijuana) was the only method of relieving that pain, I'd be tempted to take it," said Councilman Greg Caput.

But Caput said he associated use of pot as medicine with pain caused by cancer, and wondered if medical marijuana could be used for any kind of illness.

"It's up to the doctor and the patient to decide," said John Doughty, community development director, adding that other painkillers are available by prescription.

Councilman Oscar Rios cast the only dissenting vote. Councilman Dale Skillicorn was absent.

Rios compared the prohibition against medical marijuana to historic mistakes, like believing the world was flat or that women shouldn't vote, and called the proposed city ban hypocritical.

"Let's talk about alcohol. Let's talk about cigarettes. That's what's killing people," he said. "For the conservative Watsonville, we have more alcohol outlets than anybody."

No one from the public spoke in favor of the ban, and only three people, all from Santa Cruz, spoke against it.

Speaking on behalf of Valerie Corral, co-founder of Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana, attorney Ben Rice urged the council to come up with guidelines that would allow dispensaries to operate. He said many Santa Cruz County residents, have found the drug helpful to treat their illnesses, including Corral who uses marijuana to control seizures. He pointed out that Santa Cruz collects taxes on sales, and such money could be used to fund anti-drug programs.

"The problem is with meth and heroin," he said. "Compared to those other substances, (medical marijuana) is a relatively benign substance.




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