SLO Council set to vote on medical pot law

October 14, 2004

Leslie Griffy, The Tribune - San Luis Obispo

Medical marijuana dispensaries could soon spring up in San Luis Obispo.

The City Council is set to vote Tuesday on a resolution that could allow dispensaries -- centers for selling marijuana to people with a doctor's prescription -- to open under council guidelines.

Such dispensaries are currently legal under California law.

The council could also decide to wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on whether medical marijuana is legal, or whether there should be a ban on such facilities.

San Luis Obispo attorney Louis Koory represents clients who want to open a dispensary. He has worked with City Councilwoman Christine Mulholland, who brought the issue to the council.

She says the issue is a 'no-brainer.'

'People have the right to obtain it and use it for medical purposes,' she said. 'We have voted on it. It is legal in the state of California,' she said.

Mayor Dave Romero also supports medical marijuana.

'If the doctor thinks and the patient thinks this could help them, we should allow it to be used in the city,' he said.

The legal status of such pot clubs is unclear.

Federal law bans them, but in 1996 California voters passed the Compassionate Use Act, which allows physicians to prescribe marijuana to their patients.

People battling cancer and AIDS typically use marijuana because it alleviates adverse side effects from the other medications they must take.

Last year, the Legislature said the state Department of Health and county health departments should regulate medical marijuana. But state and county officials have yet to create rules to regulate prescribed use of the drug.

Some California cities -- including Oakland, Hayward and Placerville -- have approved resolutions similar to the one to be debated Tuesday.

By letting the council and public debate the issue, a medical marijuana center in San Luis Obispo could better meet the city's safety and zoning needs, said Koory.

'One of the options was for my clients to open (an unregulated) facility' legally under state law, he said. 'We decided to work with the city proactively to deal with this issue instead.' He declined to name his clients.

With the constitutionality of California's medical marijuana law being tested, some city officials aren't sure opening a distribution center is a good idea.

The Supreme Court is expected to decide next summer if states can allow a federally banned drug to be sold at such dispensaries.

Police Chief Deborah Linden said she hopes the council waits for the high court's ruling.

'The fact is there still is a conflict between federal and state law. That is problematic,' she said. 'We believe (the court decision) will provide important legal guidelines.'

The experience of other cities, including a dispensary in Hayward that was robbed, also worries her. Crime could increase around a center opened here as well, she said.

Bruce Margolin, director of the Southern California branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, called that a 'scare tactic,' saying there was no proof pot shops lead to increased crime.

'There is plenty of marijuana available to most people,' he said. 'What the dispensary provides is a place for sick people to feel safe. They shouldn't be out on the streets exposed to the dangers of the underground market.'

Koory's proposal lets pot clubs set up identification cards for patients with a doctor's prescription. Alarms and lighting would be required to prevent break-ins.

Centers would not be allowed near schools and would have to apply for a city permit every year, under the proposal.

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