Pubdate: Wed, 5 Aug 2009
Source: Good Times (Santa Cruz, CA)
Copyright: 2009 Pacific Sierra Publishing
Author: Anna Merlan
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


On Tuesday, July 28, the Santa Cruz City Council voted unanimously to
extend a moratorium on all new medical marijuana dispensaries for the
next six months. The council originally passed a 45-day moratorium on
June 23; this extended emergency moratorium is meant to enable the
Council to re-examine the current dispensary laws, regulations, and
building codes, all of which were initially drafted nearly 10 years
ago. see full story...

The move follows a wave of legislative discussion, both area-wide and
across the nation, about the practical issues surrounding medical
marijuana and the dispensaries (also referred to as "buyers' clubs")
that sell it. Although medical marijuana remains illegal under federal
law, the Obama administration announced in March that it would no
longer continue the Bush-era practice of raiding dispensaries,
choosing instead to focus only on penalizing illegal traffickers.
Elsewhere in the Bay Area, Oakland residents voted overwhelmingly last
week to approve a new tax on medical marijuana sold at one of the
city's four dispensaries. Measure F, which passed with about 72
percent of the vote, is expected to garner up to $315,000 in the 2010
calendar year.

Santa Cruz Vice Mayor and City Council member Mike Rotkin says that
while it's tempting to follow Oakland's lead in order to help address
Santa Cruz's budget crisis, he "had no problem enacting the

I think it makes sense for us to look at where we want to be," he
continues. "There are changing conditions." Once the government
announced they weren't going to prosecute the clubs, he reports that
the council got "deluged with e-mails and phone calls" from people who
potentially want to open new dispensaries.

He insists that the Council's aim is not to prevent additional
dispensaries from opening. "I'm sympathetic to the idea of opening up
one or more places," he says. "But I think we need to have it studied.
What's the right ratio [of dispensaries per capita]? What protections
do we need to provide? That's what we'll study."

At the time the moratorium was enacted, two people had applied to open
new dispensaries. The Council ruled Tuesday night that if the
applicants choose to withdraw their paperwork, their $2,000
application fee will be refunded in full. Both applicants were present
at the meeting and were visibly upset by the ruling. Both declined to

Rotkin has nothing but praise for the two existing Santa Cruz
dispensaries, Greenway Compassionate Relief on Dubois Street and Santa
Cruz Patients Collective on Limekiln Road (existing dispensaries can
keep operating during the moratorium but cannot open production
houses, which was on Greenway's agenda). He says when they were
initially proposed, neighborhood opposition was intense and that
business owners feared that a dispensary would bring increased crime,
traffic, and other disruption to the area.

In reality, Rotkin says, none of these concerns have materialized. "If
anything, they've become safer because of these places," he says.
"They provide security outside these businesses, which is a deterrent
for other kinds of illegal activities." He also notes that "zero
complaints have been filed with police about these open dispensaries.
We get more complaints about the 7-Eleven."

But medical marijuana patient, legalization advocate, and one-time
City Council candidate J. Craig Canada remains skeptical of the
Council's motives. "It seems obvious to me that the whole point of the
moratorium was to prevent these applications from being processed, and
essentially to abort the process for these two dispensaries," he says.
"I find it ridiculous that the City is spending nearly $100,000 to
encourage business, and yet they're having moratoriums on

Supposedly Santa Cruz is ... perceived nationally as a leader in the
area of medical marijuana," he adds. "I find it extremely hypocritical
for them to do this." He also believes that the Council's actions may
be illegal under the provisions of California Proposition 215, also
known as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, part of which prohibits
enacting criminal sanctions or nuisance laws against medical marijuana

Meanwhile, Valerie L. Corral of the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical
Marijuana, a collective composed primarily of terminally or seriously
ill patients, says that there are more pressing issues at hand with
existing dispensaries. "The way that the buyer's clubs are, not only
in this community but throughout the state, they're completely
mimicking the pharmaceutical companies," she says. "They're charging
the highest possible prices they can charge. Cut the prices down. Make
it accessible. Every single day we hear from scores of people saying,
'I can't afford the buyers' clubs. They're breaking me. I can't eat. I
can't pay my rent. I'm so sick.'"

She hopes that the moratorium might be an opportunity for the city to
renew a dialogue about what the dispensaries are fundamentally meant
to achieve. The planning department has created an oversight committee
comprised of two people who will come back to the council with an
impact-report at the end of the six-month moratorium.

My greatest hope for what this moratorium will do is [to] awake in our
community the need to dig a little deeper," says Corral.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake