Mountain View considers medical marijuana dispensaries

February 14, 2011

Refugio Garcia, Los Altos Town Crier

The Mountain View City Council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to allow the establishment of medical marijuana dispensaries within city limits.

Although the city last year temporarily banned marijuana clinics through June, the Environmental Planning Commission last month recommended a Regulatory Draft Ordinance that would permit the dispensaries to operate in specified areas, subject to conditions.

“We do want to come to a final decision on how the city will regulate this matter,” said Krishan Chopra, Mountain View assistant city attorney, of the commission’s role in determining whether to pursue a regulatory ordinance or continue the existing ban.

“I absolutely support the use of medical marijuana,” said Katherine Trontell, commission vice chairwoman. “Part of me feels that we need to come to grips with this.”

The draft ordinance would allow dispensaries to operate only in industrial areas of the city, a minimum of 600 feet from “sensitive uses” such as schools, churches and residential zones.

“We are trying to regulate this substance with the imperfect tool of land-use regulations,” Chopra said. “We have found it very challenging, and we think other cities across the state have found it to be very challenging as well.”

The residents who spoke at the Jan. 19 meeting supported allowing the clinics in Mountain View.

A proposal from Commission Chairman John McAlister suggested limiting the number of dispensaries to three in the first year. It was defeated.

Resident George Contreras said dispensaries would generate tax revenue for the city.

“Medical dispensaries are not bad – they have the potential to help,” he said.

The ordinance includes guidelines for defining what constitutes a medical marijuana dispensary, cultivating marijuana, safety testing, possible residency restrictions and regulating delivery services. Under state law, a medical marijuana dispensary is defined as having two or more members.

“We are moving on to a very complex legal landscape,” Chopra said. “Sale or possession of marijuana is still illegal under federal law, but the state offers a very limited scope of immunity to qualified patients and caregivers.”

Representatives from Mountain View’s city attorney’s office, the Community Development Department and the police department toured two dispensaries in San Jose and discovered that a one-size-fits-all approach is not appropriate for Mountain View, as the operational and security requirements – proper lighting, metal detectors and security guards – can vary from one dispensary to another.

Before serving patients, the ordinance would require dispensaries to secure conditional-use permits, including a criminal background check of all employees, consent from the property owner, a description of the floor plan and proposed security measures for the site.

Steve Zyszkiewicz of Campbell, a member of the Other Side of the Fence Collective and the Silicon Valley branch of Americans for Safe Access, urged the council to approve the ordinance.

“We would like to be serving patients,” he said.

Former Oakland city attorney James Anthony, who has a private practice that addresses land-use laws involving the cannabis movement, told the council he thought they were “headed in the right direction.”

“I don’t think you want to ban (medical marijuana dispensaries) – it seems unnecessarily heavy-handed and draconian,” Anthony said.



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