Cannabis clubs may be banned

October 18, 2006

Tom Lochner, Contra Costa Times

The San Pablo Planning Commission has endorsed a draft ordinance that would ban medical marijuana dispensaries from opening anywhere in the city.

Associate Planner Al Straessle told the commission Tuesday that the San Pablo City Council should ban the dispensaries, popularly known as cannabis clubs, until inconsistencies between federal and state laws are resolved.

In 1996, California voters approved the Compassionate Use Act, which legalizes marijuana as medicine on the recommendation of a doctor. State Senate Bill 420 in 2003 set guidelines on distribution of the medicine.

The federal government, however, considers marijuana an illegal drug with no medical value. A 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision affirmed the federal government's power to enforce federal marijuana laws even in states that allow the drug.

The proposed ordinance, which would amend the municipal and zoning codes, will be the subject of a public hearing before the San Pablo City Council on Nov. 6. Current city codes make no specific reference to cannabis clubs.

Banning cannabis clubs pending resolution of inconsistencies between state and federal laws is a tack many California communities have taken of late, Straessle told the commission. But other factors also are behind San Pablo's proposed ban.

City Attorney Brian Libow compiled anecdotal evidence from more than a dozen California cities and counties suggesting cannabis clubs generate crime and other social ills such as illegal resale of drugs by marijuana patients, armed robberies, drug use by minors, traffic congestion around dispensaries and parking problems.

An association of California police chiefs warned that cannabis clubs create a subculture of crime.

San Pablo is in the second year of a cannabis club moratorium that expires in May. In July, the council instructed Libow and the city staff to draft an ordinance that would ban cannabis clubs in deference to federal law.

There was no testimony from pro-medical marijuana groups in the packet of documents that accompanied Straessle's report. Medical marijuana advocates have sued several California cities over cannabis club bans or what they perceive as overly restrictive regulating ordinances, but they have been largely silent over the past year while several Contra Costa cities established or extended moratoriums or enacted outright bans.

No member of the public spoke at Tuesday's public hearing, which ended in a 4-0 vote by the commission to recommend passage of the proposed ordinance by the City Council on Nov. 6.

Commissioners William Erwin, Cheremay Sutton, Nell Trundle and Mark Maltagliati voted in favor of the recommendation. Commissioner Katherine Brown was absent.

Reach Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760 or

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