Pot Club Ban Recommended

September 20, 2011

Austin Walsh, Redwood City Patch

Despite the pleas of advocates for allowing the medicinal use of marijuana, the Redwood City Planning Commission unanimously voted to recommend a temporary ban of medical marijuana dispensaries.

During a meeting Tuesday night, the commission agreed that it would be best for the city to hold off on allowing the clubs to open up shop over the course of the next two years. During which time the city can study its land use policy to determine whether there are acceptable places in Redwood City for the clubs to locate, before making a more permanent decision on the fate of the clubs.

The city council will ultimately decide the fate of dispensaries in Redwood City. In the process leading up to that decision, council members will consider the recommendation of the planning commission.

A Land Use Issue

And though advocates for responsible use of marijuana spoke at the meeting toward the benefits for patients of using the drug as a medicine, the commission members decided to make their decision based solely on the city's land use regulations.

"Tonight the decision before us isn't a debate about the usefulness or benefit of marijuana," said commissioner Kevin Bondonno. "That is a different conversation."

He said rather the commission should make its recommendation in light of whether members believed that allowing medical marijuana dispensaries were compatible with the still-developing land use regulations in Redwood City.

He sentiment was echoed by commissioner Nancy Radcliffe, who said that after the two year sunset clause tied to the recommended ban expires, the city will have likely resolved the rezoning effort it is currently undertaking, and will be in a better place to make a more educated long term decision on the clubs.

The issue of medical marijuana enforcement gets increasingly cloudier as it has yet to be decided whether cities are allowed to ban the clubs outright. So jurisdictions opposing the clubs often rely on land use regulations to effectively zone the clubs out of the city.

Redwood City imposed a moratorium on allowing pot clubs within the city limits in 2009, and has been studying the issue since. The moratorium is slated to expire in December. The city council is expected to make a decision on the clubs before the moratorium expires.

Mayor Jeff Ira has already publicly said he would not approve the application.

The Status of Marijuana Statewide, Countywide

The state of California legalized use of marijuana for medical purposes in 1996. Since then, cities and counties have struggled with how to regulate the clubs, in light of marijuana still being illegal under the law of the federal government, and the resulting conflict of how use of the drug is enforced.

In San Mateo County, San Carlos and San Mateo currently allow the clubs to exist. Alternatively, they are not allowed in Colma, Half Moon Bay, South San Francisco, San Bruno, Brisbane, East Palo Alto and Millbrae.

State law requires that the clubs are not allowed to open within 600 feet of any K-12 schools. Redwood City has considered expanding that buffer zone out to as far as 1,000 feet. Furthermore, planning staff has decided that the clubs will not be allowed in areas zoned for residential development, open spaces, or near public facilities such as youth recreation centers, according to a city staff report.

The most recent medical marijuana dispensary application from Rob Bueno in July at 2853 El Camino Real will not be affected because it is within the county's jurisdiction.

Where Could Dispensaries Theoretically Open in Redwood City?

Considering these zoning regulations, a vast majority of the region that would be available to open up marijuana clubs are in the industrial areas located across Highway 101 in the northern region of Redwood City, according to a city staff report.

Yet still, the planning commission felt it would be best to wait until the city fully implements new zoning regulations before making a decision that relies so heavily on those future policy decisions.

This decision came to the chagrin of medical marijuana advocates, who spoke publicly in an attempt to persuade the commission toward allowing the clubs to open in Redwood City.

Jonathan Steigman, representative for the Americans for Safe Access, challenged the commission to forego the concerns regarding public safety that are often tied to medical marijuana clubs and recommend the council approve establishment of the clubs.

"There is no correlation between crime and marijuana," he said.

The remarks directly countered claims made by the Redwood City Police Department, that asserted there is an uptick in crime in areas near the clubs.

And commissioner Ernie Schmidt said that philosophically he sided with those in favor of allowing the clubs, but was persuaded to vote for imposing the ban once the commission began viewing the issue through the lens of public land use regulations.

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