Pubdate: Thu, 08 Jul 2010
Source: Napa Valley Register (CA)
Copyright: 2010 Lee Enterprises
Author: Kevin Courtney


District Attorney Gary Lieberstein surprised the Napa City Council
Tuesday with a last-minute appeal that it not pass an ordinance
authorizing a medical marijuana dispensary.

"I believe we're asking for problems enacting this as presently
written," said Lieberstein, who is nominally the county's top lawman.

Lieberstein's opposition, which he compared to someone jumping up at a
wedding ceremony to block nuptials, caught the council off guard.

The city had conducted eight public meetings over the past year as it
prepared to legalize a medical pot dispensary, but had never heard
from Lieberstein until Tuesday as it prepared to give the authorizing
ordinance a second reading.

"This is just stunning to me," Councilman Mark van Gorder said. "This
wedding has been going on for nearly a year."

Lieberstein apologized for showing up only now. He had been unable to
attend previous hearings, he said.

Why not a letter or fax or e-mail? van Gorder asked. The final reading
of the ordinance is not the best time to jump into the debate, he said.

Lieberstein said the city would be approving the sale and growing of
medical marijuana in contravention of federal law. He worried that
minors would be able to get pot at a clinic if they had a doctor's

A better approach, Lieberstein said, would be for the city to wait and
see how a California ballot initiative legalizing recreational
marijuana fares in November.

If Napa authorizes the sale of medical pot, it will be joining the
"the wild West of marijuana," Lieberstein said.

The council rebuffed Lieberstein. Mayor Jill Techel cut him off,
saying he had gone way over his allotted five minutes for public comment.

All five council members said they were committed to experimenting
with one medical marijuana dispensary. The city is putting in place
tight restrictions on the location of such dispensary and rules of
operation, they said.

The council can back out if the best application to run a dispensary
seems fatally flawed, council members said.

Councilwoman Juliana Inman said the city's ordinance would make sure
that residences don't turn into marijuana grow houses. It would also
go a long way to preventing unregulated, illegal operations such as
have occurred in the past, she said.

Councilman Peter Mott noted that city police had opposed authorizing a
medical marijuana dispensary, but had helped draft the new
regulations. He called the ordinance "extremely well done."

"It's not as if the flood gates have opened and just anybody can come
in and establish a medical marijuana dispensary," van Gorder said.

Napa voters endorsed the 1996 state initiative allowing medical
marijuana, van Gorder noted. People who can benefit from medical
marijuana have waited 14 years for a legal way to buy their medicine
locally, he said.

Councilman Jim Krider received assurances from City Attorney Michael
Barrett that the city could always revoke a dispensary's use permit if
it became a nuisance.

Lieberstein said the ordinance should explicitly exclude anyone under
age 21 from the clinic. The age cutoff should be the same as for
buying alcohol, he said.

Van Gorder countered that 18-year-olds can fight for their country in
Afghanistan. They should be able to have access to medical marijuana
if they return home with war injuries, he said.

The council voted 5-0 to give the ordinance a second and final
reading. After it becomes effective in mid-August, city staff will
seek applications. A preferred applicant will be announced in January
or February.

The chosen applicant will undergo a use permit application process
that could take six months. The council could award a permit as early
as next July, staff said.

The city attorney said passage of the November initiative authorizing
recreational use would not made the city's medical marijuana ordinance

The state measure does not decriminalize sales, Barrett said. The
city's new ordinance is the city's only tool for regulating the
distribution and sale of medical marijuana, he said.

Only two other people spoke at the public hearing, both in favor of
the medical marijuana ordinance.

"Attorneys have a way of saying the sky is falling," said Dona Frank
who works for a medical marijuana cooperative in Santa Rosa. "Don't
panic; it's organic," she said.
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