Medical marijuana dispensaries could be banned in Pittsburg

December 10, 2012

Eve Mitchell, Contra Costa Times

The Pittsburg Planning Commission will consider a staff recommendation to ban medical marijuana dispensaries.

If commissioners on Tuesday approve the staff recommendation, the matter will go to the City Council as an ordinance for a vote.

In April of 2011, council members adopted a moratorium, which expires in April, that prohibited dispensaries from operating while staff studied whether to develop regulations to allow them to operate. The recommendation calls for making it official city policy to ban them outright.

Before the moratorium went into effect, East Bay Collective operated a dispensary without a permit, but it didn't stay open because the city got a court injunction to shut it down.

There are no requests before the city to operate a dispensary, and when the city considered the initial moratorium and two later extensions, no one showed up to protest the action.

If approved, the ban on dispensaries would not prevent a qualified patient from growing medical marijuana in his or her own home for personal use, City Attorney Ruthann Ziegler said in an email.

A staff report said the ban was needed in the interest of public safety and that the use of medical marijuana is prohibited under federal law, even though its medical use was approved by California voters in 1996. The report cited a white paper by the California Police Chiefs Association that said many violent crimes, including armed robbery and murder, have been associated with dispensaries.

Antioch has a moratorium on dispensaries, while Oakley and Brentwood have banned them.

"Unfortunately, (a ban) is not all that unusual," said Kris Hermes, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, a national organization advocating for safe and legal use of medical marijuana. "While there are dozens of municipalities that have recognized their patients' needs for medical marijuana and regulate their activities, there are more than three times the number that have banned it outright."

Statewide, more than 50 cities and counties allow dispensaries, more than 70 cities have moratoriums against them, and 170 cities have banned them, according to Americans for Safe Access.

"California is still a patchwork of bans and regulatory ordinances," Hermes said. "That is still very problematic for a large number of patients who don't live anywhere near an operating dispensary."

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