Pubdate: Sat, 20 Mar 2010
Source: St. Helena Star (CA)
Copyright: 2010 Lee Enterprises
Author: Kevin Courtney


The Napa City Council's plan for medical  marijuana dispensaries was
attacked by some cannabis  advocates Tuesday night as too
conservative, provoking  an angry response from Councilwoman Juliana

Advocates, including many who plan to compete for a  city permit,
criticized a proposal that would allow  only one dispensary the first
year, cap the number of  patients at about 7,500 and tightly restrict
the amount  grown in homes.

The city doesn't limit the number of pharmacies or  other businesses
or tell medical doctors how many  patients they can treat, the
advocates said.

A Ukiah attorney warned that limiting pot dispensaries  to just one
ran counter to a recent legal decision,  putting the city on shaky
legal ground.

After listening to an hour of public comment, Inman  said she was "a
little taken aback by the ferocity of  the opposition."

Napa needs to proceed cautiously, Inman said. "I  believe we should
start with one applicant who has been  carefully vetted."

Inman defended the patient limit of 7,500, saying she  didn't want to
see Napa become a medical marijuana  Mecca for people from around the
Bay Area.

As for the threat that allowing only one dispensary  might provoke a
legal challenge, Inman struck a defiant  note. "If one is not enough,
let's have zero," she  said. "People should be careful about asking
for the  moon."

After hearing comments from 16 people, the majority of  whom applauded
the council's direction, the council  unanimously supported most of
staff's proposed  regulations for the city's experiment with medical
cannabis dispensaries.

Council members said they are responding to the needs  of residents
who say that marijuana helps them cope  with a host of medical conditions.

State voters approved an initiative in 1996 that allows  cities to
authorize medical marijuana dispensaries. The  federal government
considers marijuana an illegal drug,  but is deferring to states that
allow exemptions.

The council said last summer that it wanted to make it  possible for a
medical marijuana dispensary to open in  Napa. This new direction has
been strongly supported by  people who are attending the hearings.
Only a few  people have spoken out against dispensaries.

Staff will take Tuesday's council comments, tweak the  draft
ordinance, then send it to the Planning  Commission for a public
hearing this spring. After the  council gives its OK, the city will
seek dispensary  applications.

Council members said that capping the first  dispensary's membership
to 10 percent of the city's  population was a way of making sure it
didn't become a  regional draw.

No other city in the Napa Valley allows marijuana  dispensaries, nor
do many nearby cities.

Several council members said they would like to  restrict the
customers base to city residents, but  staff said this was not legally
possible. The city will  consider allowing a second dispensary after a

Dispensaries will be restricted to commercial and  office zones. A
large-scale marijuana growing facility  in support of the dispensary
will be restricted to a  light industrial zone.

Councilman Mark van Gorder and Inman said they agreed  with people who
said it would be more efficient and  more secure if the grow facility
and the dispensary  were together in an industrial area.

The Planning Commission will be able to weigh in on  zoning
restrictions, as well as a staff recommendation  that the dispensary
be at least 1,000 feet from parks  and schools.

Mayor Jill Techel said the dispensary belonged in a  medical office
zone with other doctors' offices. If  marijuana is a medicine, then
dispensaries should be  zoned that way, she said.

The council liked limiting the growing space in private  homes to 25
square feet, with exemptions to 50 square  feet in special cases. The
city does not want homes to  be taken over as grow houses.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake