Pubdate: Sun, 30 May 2010
Source: Napa Valley Register (CA)
Copyright: 2010 Lee Enterprises
Author: Jesse Duarte


St. Helena Residents Will Have To Go Out Of Town To  Legally Buy Their
Medical Marijuana.

In the face of strong public opposition, the St. Helena  City Council
voted 4-1 this week to abandon an  ordinance that would have allowed
up to two marijuana  dispensaries in the industrial and service
commercial  zoning districts.

"I don't think having a dispensary here will enhance  St. Helena,"
said Councilwoman Sharon Crull, adding  that she personally supports
medical marijuana. "I just  don't think it's necessary, I don't think
it's good for  our town, and I don't think the people here want it."

In last week's St. Helena debate, Councilman Eric Sklar  cast the only
dissenting vote.

Although Sklar didn't elaborate on Tuesday, when the  council asked
city staff to draft an ordinance in  January he voiced strong support
for dispensaries,  saying medical marijuana helped relieve his late
father's pain while he was battling cancer.

About 70 members of the public attended Tuesday's  council meeting.
More than half of the 25 people who  addressed the council strongly
opposed the ordinance.  Some questioned why it had been drafted at

Public health concerns have led Yountville and American  Canyon to ban
dispensaries, said Lisa Toller. "Why  can't we?" she asked.

Opponents said that aside from being poorly regulated,  dispensaries
would send the wrong message to local  teens, who already abuse
alcohol and drugs at rates  higher than state and national averages.

They dismissed the argument that local marijuana  patients shouldn't
have to drive to Napa or Santa Rosa  to purchase marijuana.

"We don't have access to a lot of things here in St.  Helena," said
Sara Cakebread, a mother of two teens.  "We have to drive to Santa
Rosa (and Napa) to buy  underwear for our kids."

Critics also pointed out that the vast majority of  people who have
spoken in favor of the ordinance are  from outside St. Helena.

"Who is going to benefit from this?" asked John Sales.  "The citizens
of St. Helena or some pushers from  outside the county?"

Supporters of dispensaries told the council that having  legal
marijuana available locally would prevent  patients from resorting to
the black market.

In response to concerns about dispensaries increasing  marijuana's use
by teens, proponents said teens seeking  marijuana for recreational
use wouldn't be interested  in the dispensary because its prices would
be  significantly higher than prices on the street.

"If you license a dispensary in this town and have  tight regulations
aE& they're going to be very afraid  of stepping over any lines
because they don't want that  permit yanked away as soon as they do
something wrong,"  said Matt Potter, an analyst with the medical
marijuana  consulting firm CannBe.

Regardless of their personal opinions about medical  marijuana, city
council members agreed that local  residents have clearly expressed
their opinions about  the issue.

"We're not here to necessarily just voice our own  personal opinion,"
said Councilwoman Bonnie Schoch. "We  represent everybody here."

She added that the city needs to hear from the St.  Helena Unified
School District, which never commented  formally on the ordinance.

City Councilwoman Catarina Sanchez said the council  needs more
information, such as how much local demand  exists and whether
dispensaries would pose a threat to  kids.

The council voted 4-1 not to adopt the ordinance, which  effectively
kills it. They stopped short of pursuing a  moratorium on dispensaries
because City Attorney John  Truxaw said dispensaries are already
illegal in St.  Helena.

The city's zoning ordinance has a list of business  types that are
acceptable in various zoning districts.  Since marijuana dispensaries
aren't mentioned, a  moratorium is unnecessary, Truxaw said. But he
warned  that dispensaries are among the most highly litigated  issues
in the state.

In January, after the city received an inquiry about  establishing a
dispensary, city staff suggested that  the council might want to adopt
a short-term  moratorium. But instead, council members directed staff
to draft an ordinance regulating dispensaries.

The ordinance attracted little controversy when the  planning
commission reviewed it. On May 4 commissioners  passed the ordinance
on to the council, stressing that  they were not endorsing
dispensaries, only following  the council's direction to draft an ordinance.

In an e-mail, Planning Commissioner Peter White urged  the council to
vote against the ordinance.

"As a planning commissioner, I was not asked my opinion  about whether
or not we should have dispensaries but if  the council was so moved to
have them -- what zoning  regulations should govern them," he wrote.
"In my  judgment, the more restrictive the better, and in  hindsight a
total ban would be the best."

About 35 e-mails opposing the ordinance were addressed  to the entire
council. But individual council members  reported receiving "hundreds"
of e-mails for and  against the ordinance over the last few weeks. 
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