Elk Grove balks at medical pot

April 10, 2004

Michael Kolber , Sacramento Bee

The Elk Grove City Council begrudgingly established rules for medical marijuana dispensaries Wednesday in a decision that fully satisfied neither those who support nor those who oppose the facilities.

Council members and the city attorney repeatedly said they do not condone use of the drug, but under state law, the city is required to permit the dispensaries.

City officials said they hoped the restrictions they were imposing - including limited hours and locations - would mitigate anticipated problems and might even discourage people from opening the facilities in Elk Grove.

The ordinance was approved on a 4-1 vote, with Councilman Jim Cooper, a captain in the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department, dissenting. The measure required four votes to pass because it was being introduced as an urgency ordinance, which requires fewer public hearings.

City Attorney Anthony Manzanetti said he proposed the urgency ordinance because individuals had contacted the city about opening dispensaries in Elk Grove. Without the restrictions the City Council imposed Wednesday, it would have been forced to allow the dispensaries without any limitations.

Instead, the council laid down a list of restrictions that included prohibiting the use and cultivation of marijuana on the premises, banning the sale of drug paraphernalia, removing waste twice a day and requiring drug tests for store employees. The dispensaries are restricted to areas zoned commercial that are at least 1,000 feet from any school.

Proposition 215, an initiative California voters approved in 1996, decriminalized the possession and cultivation of marijuana for medical treatment recommended by a doctor.

'Our hands are tied under Prop. 215,' said Councilman Michael Leary, a sergeant in the Sheriff's Department. 'I think we're obviously in a world that is more and more accepting of drugs into our lives, unfortunately.'

Two men, who said they were interested in opening marijuana dispensaries in Elk Grove, told the council they supported the restrictions as proposed Wednesday.

'This is a good thing. It will help a lot of people,' said David McIntosh, a Brentwood man who said he was considering opening a dispensary in Elk Grove.

But a number of speakers opposed the dispensaries, and, as Mayor Sophia Scherman pointed out, those in opposition were Elk Grove residents, while those speaking in favor lived elsewhere.

'I don't think Elk Grove needs to add to addictive drug problems,' said Roger Swearingen, a retired teacher. 'This is our chance not to cause crime.'

Medicinal marijuana users also spoke at the hearing, including Seth McLean, a 19-year-old Sacramento man who was gaunt and visibly weak from Crohn's disease. He said marijuana allowed him to gain weight, although he travels to a Berkeley marijuana club to receive the drug.

McLean said Thursday that he and other patients were disturbed by the restrictions the council imposed on marijuana dispensaries.

'We felt the council was trying to overregulate when and where the clubs could operate, to the point that they wouldn't be able to operate,' McLean said. 'I think it even borders on discrimination. From a patient's perspective, to live a functional life there's a great proportion of our society in California that uses cannabis. The council does not seem to be compassionate to that.'

But some council members thought the restrictions didn't go far enough. Scherman said the permitted hours of operation in the regulation - 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. - were too long and that too many locations were allowed.

The ordinance, however, passed without amendment.

Scherman said she also was concerned that the level of security the dispensaries required implied that they draw crime.

A Roseville dispensary has bank-style glass partitions and a sophisticated alarm system hard-wired to the police department.

'If they have to go through that type of security, then we don't want them in Elk Grove,' she said.

Richard Marino, the manager of the Roseville dispensary, said his store has never been robbed. He said a street dealer once attempted to sell drugs to his clients, but the dealer was arrested.

Scherman urged residents to talk to shopping center developers to encourage them not to lease space to dispensaries.


 

Limits on Dispensaries

Medicinal marijuana dispensary rules:

* Hours limited to 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

* Locations permitted only in commercial zone at least 1,000 feet from any school

* No marijuana can be grown on the premises

* No drug paraphernalia can be sold

* Solid waste must be removed twice a day

* Employees must undergo drug tests and background checks and be fingerprinted

* Property owners within 1,000 feet of the business must be notified at least 30 days prior to the approval of the business license

* Names and addresses of all suppliers of cannabis must be named on the business license application

* No alcohol can be kept on site

* A safety and security plan must be approved by the Elk Grove Police Department



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