Salinas council to discuss pot law

November 19, 2007

Claudia Meléndez Salinas, Monterey County Herald (CA)

Although the ban on medical marijuana dispensaries in Salinas is a foregone conclusion, if last week's debate on the topic is any indication, the City Council is in for another lively discussion.

For the sixth time this year, the council will debate the pros and cons of allowing medical pot shops to be set up in the city, an issue that's strongly opposed by three council members and Mayor Dennis Donohue, and has been consistently backed by the rest of the council.

The meeting begins at 7 p.m. today at City Hall.

But the ordinance proposed by the Police Department and the city attorney's office goes further than banning the shops: if it passes, medical marijuana dispensaries would be considered a "public nuisance" and its operators guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and 180 days in jail.

"That's ridiculous," said Councilwoman Jyl Lutes, who supports the use of marijuana for medical purposes. "I don't know why we'll go that far."

Police wrote to the council that the ordinance does not prohibit "qualified patients" from possessing the drug. But because dispensaries are not "primary caregivers," and only patients or their caregivers are allowed under California law to possess the substance, Salinas would be colliding with federal laws if pot shops were set up, administrators say.

Salinas would be the third city in Monterey County to ban them, following Marina and Seaside. Proponents of using pot to alleviate symptoms of terminal diseases such as AIDS and cancer say elderly patients can't drive long distances to get the drug.

Lawrence Samuels, chairman of the Foundation to End Drug Unfairness Policy, a local pro-medical marijuana group, said his organization will try to convince other municipalities to change their rules.

"We'll keep trying in some of the other cities," he said. "Hopefully, we'll get a clinic to take (older) people along the coast."

Claudia Meléndez Salinas can be reached at 753-6755 or

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