Pubdate: Sat, 05 Jun 2010
Source: St. Helena Star (CA)
Copyright: 2010 Lee Enterprises
Author: Kevin Courtney


Napa will become the first city in Napa  County to allow medical
marijuana dispensaries for  patients with authorizations from medical

After seven months of hearings dominated by passionate  testimonials
about the medicinal benefits of pot, the  City Council voted
unanimously Tuesday night to make  medical pot available to residents.

Council members asserted that well-regulated  dispensaries can provide
a service to people with  medical needs without becoming a blight on
the city.

It could be as much as a year before the city issues a  permit for its
first dispensary. In coming months, the  city will hold a competition
to select a non-profit  group to apply for a permit.

The use permit process alone could take six months,  with public
hearings in front of the Planning  Commission and council on the
suitability of a site.

Mayor Jill Techel said a majority of Napans support  medical
marijuana. When voters statewide approved an  initiative legalizing
cannabis for medical uses in  1996, some 60 percent of local residents
voted 'yes,'  she said.

"We feel voters have voted and said they want a safe  place for care,"
Techel said. Napa's ordinance is  loaded with security requirements to
reduce the chances  that a clinic will create problems, she said.

Councilman Pete Mott said Napa had written a model  ordinance better
than Sebastopol's, which is often  cited as the gold standard for
assuring a well-run  clinic.

The city will allow only one clinic the first year,  with the
possibility of one more the second year if  there is a demonstrated
need. Membership in the first  clinic will be limited to 10 percent of
the city's  population, or almost 8,000 people. City residency will
not be a requirement for service.

The Napa Police Department initially provided a laundry  list of
reasons as to why marijuana dispensaries would  not be a good idea,
saying that some cities have seen  crime increases.

Council members and cannabis advocates cited examples  of cities where
such dispensaries have not caused  problems.

Speakers at Tuesday night's hearing said medical  marijuana would
provide needed symptom relief to people  with a variety of
life-threatening and debilitating  conditions.

"This is not recreational marijuana, it's medical  marijuana," Jed
Hodges told the council.

"There is a need for compassion," said David Aten,  citing examples of
people he knew with health crises.

As things now stand, "Anyone can get medical  marijuana," Jack Bauer
said. "What this will do is  control it and make it available to those
who need it."

Marijuana dispensaries will be allowed in certain  office and light
industrial zones, but not within 500  feet of schools, parks and other
areas where youths  gather.

To buy medical pot, a patient would have to have an  authorization
written by a medical doctor.

The city's ordinance allows people to devote up to 25  square feet in
their homes for growing medical pot. The  nonprofit group selected to
run a dispensary will also  be allowed grow plants in a warehouse in
an industrial  zone.

The city will scrutinize applicants, requiring criminal  background
checks, security plans and guarantees that  most revenue get plowed
back into the business,  officials said.

An applicant that offers to donate profits to community  groups would
likely be favored over one that did not,  council members said.

Tuesday's public hearing lasted 30 minutes, with all  but two of a
dozen speakers endorsing the city's  medical marijuana ordinance.

The other four cities in the Napa Valley have all  imposed moratoriums
on pot clinics or banned them  outright.

Dispensary applicants will have to pay a $7,000 deposit  to cover the
costs for reviewing their project. The  applicant chosen for use
permit review will have to  deposit another $8,000.

Napa's ordinance follows state laws and court decisions  which set
rules for cities and counties that want to  allow medical marijuana
dispensaries, city officials  said. 
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