Livingston wants time to study its medical marijuana dispensary policy

March 02, 2010

Amy Starnes, Merced Sun-Star

The City Council on Thursday will consider an emergency ordinance to place a 45-day moratorium on opening medical marijuana dispensaries in the city. A city staff report prepared for the council explains that someone recently asked about the process needed to open a medical marijuana dispensary in Livingston. City Manager Richard Warne didn't know who that person was or whether he or she owns established dispensaries in California.

In light of the inquiry, however, city staff members have concluded that Livingston's current ordinance regulating medical marijuana dispensaries may be inadequate because it was written before the 2009 federal decision not to raid or prosecute medical marijuana growers or dispensaries.

The 45-day moratorium is needed so that staff can review the city's ordinance and recommend changes, the report argues.

The council will consider the moratorium at a special meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday in the council chambers, 1416 C Street.

The staff report, prepared by Assistant City Attorney Jeffrey Massey, states that cities that have permitted dispensaries experience increased crime, such as burglaries, robberies and illegal drug sales, near the businesses. But the report doesn't provide any evidence to back up such a claim.

Warne said Massey based that description on comments the staff has gotten from other cities. He declined to name those cities.

"That's patently false," said Kris Hermes, a spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, a nonprofit organization that promotes safe and legal use of medicinal marijuana.

Hermes said when a responsible dispensary opens under a community's regulations, it includes a large security component that could feature security guards and cameras as well as increased lighting.

"You are going to find that criminal activity diminishes as a result of the security apparatus, and this has been found to be true all over the state," Hermes said, adding that the organization has done its own study on the matter.

The organization's study includes comments from Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck who suggested after analyzing 2009 crime statistics that the city's 350 banks are more likely to be robbed than its 500 marijuana dispensaries.

Hermes also questioned why Livingston's leaders might think their ordinance is insufficient. "If they have a regulatory scheme, why not use it?" he asked.

Warne said, "We don't believe it's a good idea to have them in the city of Livingston."

Warne suggested the council could extend the moratorium for as long as a year while staff study the issue. The council will need a supermajority, or four votes out of five, to impose the emergency ordinance, Warne said.

Mayor Daniel Varela Sr. said while he hasn't made up his mind on the issue, he is leery of dispensaries. He suggested that having such a business in the city might send young residents the wrong message.

"Why in Livingston and why now? We have never been approached, and all of a sudden someone comes in and says, 'We want to apply for a permit,'" he said.

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