Pubdate: Thu, 13 Aug 2009
Source: North County Times (Escondido, CA)
Copyright: 2009 North County Times
Author: David Garrick
Cited: Escondido City Council
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


Public Safety Deemed More Important Than Pain Relief

Escondido banned medical marijuana dispensaries Wednesday night, 
joining San Marcos as the only North County cities to adopt such legislation.

Escondido officials said a "proactive" approach was important because 
dispensaries have been shown to increase local crime, set a bad 
example for youth and give people arrested for marijuana possession a 
more plausible explanation for carrying the drug.

But opponents said the city was risking lawsuits by moving too 
quickly, and a man planning to open a dispensary on Metcalf Street 
lobbied the City Council to adopt alternative legislation that would 
have carefully governed how dispensaries could operate.

The council opted to ban dispensaries, but council members 
acknowledged marijuana's benefits as a painkiller for sick people and 
expressed some reservations about the ban.

When California voters legalized medical marijuana in 1996, they put 
cities in the awkward position of deciding whether to ban or 
carefully regulate dispensaries. Another complication is that the 
drug remains illegal under federal law.

Oceanside and Escondido recently adopted 45-day moratoriums so they 
could conduct comprehensive reviews of the issue. Oceanside extended 
its moratorium another 10 months in June, but Escondido quickly put 
an ordinance together at the urging of Councilman Dick Daniels.

On Wednesday, Daniels said the clear and consistent negative 
experiences that other cities have had with dispensaries made a long 
review unnecessary.

But Councilwoman Olga Diaz said her biggest concern in adopting the 
ban was the city's failure to conduct the comprehensive review 
promised to residents and marijuana advocates when the temporary 
moratorium was adopted July 8.

Diaz said the city staff report on the issue was "slanted" in favor 
of the ban, and she called the crime concerns overblown. She 
suggested the city could open a dispensary in its new police station 
and use the revenue to support youth recreation programs.

But Diaz said she reluctantly voted for the ban because medical 
marijuana was not among the issues she was passionate about.

Councilwoman Marie Waldron said her support was based on concerns 
that it would be difficult to prevent people without illnesses from 
using the dispensaries to obtain the illegal drug.

Councilman Sam Abed said the ban was about keeping children safe and 
making sure people did not get the wrong message that marijuana use 
was acceptable.

"I don't want to be in a city where kids are exposed to this kind of 
thing," Abed said.

Abed also noted that ill Escondido residents would not have to travel 
too far to get marijuana at the nearest dispensaries to the city, 
which are in Vista and Mira Mesa.

Daniels said a key argument in favor of the ban was sparing Escondido 
police officers from the hassle and effort required by dispensaries, 
which tend to attract burglars, loitering and illegal drug sales on 
adjacent streets.

The local social service and drug prevention communities came out in 
strong support of the ban, with nearly a dozen speakers hailing 
Daniels and the council for moving so quickly.

Only two people spoke against the ban. One of them was Stephen 
Wheeler, who prompted Escondido to explore the issue when he 
approached them about opening the city's first dispensary in late May.

Wheeler said the city's analysis was too cursory and legally dubious.

"Why in the world would we put Escondido in the position of being the 
next in line for a legal challenge," Wheeler asked the council.

Joseph Malander, another medical marijuana advocate, said the 
negatives cited by the city were not enough to trump the pain relief 
that marijuana can provide to sick people.

He also disputed the city's concerns about crime.

"Bad things are going to happen in a bad part of town, dispensary or 
not," he said, suggesting that a dispensary should be located in the 
medical district near Palomar Medical Center.

In other business, the council banned smoking in city parks, trails 
and open spaces. Escondido is one of the last cities in the county to 
adopt such a ban. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake