Pubdate: Thu, 02 Sep 2010
Source: Marin Independent Journal (CA)
Copyright: 2010 Marin Independent Journal
Author: Richard Halstead


The town of Fairfax has taken the first step necessary to slap a
45-day moratorium on the establishment of new medical marijuana

On a first reading, the Town Council voted 4-1 Wednesday to adopt the
moratorium. The council could still change its mind when the ordinance
receives its second reading in October.

The town became the first in the state to give the green light to a
medical marijuana dispensary after passage of Proposition 215 allowing
such facilities, and the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana opened
in 1997 at 215 Old School Plaza. It continues to be the town's only
medical marijuana dispensary.

"By banning any competition, you are setting up a monopoly," said
Darren Foti of San Rafael, "and it's not fair to the patients."

Scott Candell, a lawyer representing an applicant seeking to open a
new dispensary in Fairfax, said, "At this point, patients have
absolutely no alterative, and it's wrong."

Fairfax Mayor Lew Tremaine, who brought the matter to the council,
said the moratorium would delay decisions on approving new medical
marijuana dispensaries until after voters weigh in on Proposition 19.
The initiative on the Nov. 2 ballot would legalize marijuana and allow
local governments to collect marijuana-related fees and taxes.

Tremaine said if Proposition 19 passes, the town will have to
re-evaluate and modify its laws governing marijuana. If the council
approves a moratorium, it could extend the freeze to last up to two
years, well beyond the election.

"I'm by no means suggesting we should protect a monopoly," Tremaine

The Obama administration has eased prosecutorial pressure on licensed
facilities, even though they remain illegal under federal law. As a
result, dispensaries have proliferated throughout the Bay Area. The
Fairfax Town Council's action was prompted by two formal applications
for use permits and a stream of inquiries. Town staff told the council
it was receiving about one call every 10 days.

The two applications, which were rejected by the Fairfax Planning
Commission last month, were to open marijuana dispensaries at 1587 Sir
Francis Drake Blvd. and 1621 Sir Francis Drake Blvd. The commission
judged that both sites lacked adequate parking to satisfy a town
ordinance. Concerns were also raised about the locations' proximity to
residences. Both applicants had proposed extensive safety measures,
including bulletproof windows, security cameras and lights.

Patrick Cotirell of Fairfax said, "That tells me they're expecting to
attract a criminal element. I don't want to see that happen here in my

Because Fairfax has no law on its books governing the operations of a
medical marijuana dispensary - and because few, if any, such laws
exist statewide to act as a precedent - the town must evaluate each
request on a case-by-case basis, requiring a great deal of time and
effort. A recent request by Marin Alliance director Lynette Shaw to
modify the terms of her use permit - including creation of a delivery
service - required more than 20 hours of deliberation by Fairfax's
Planning Commission.

Tremaine said it would be an "abject waste of time" to go through a
similar process with new applicants until the fate of Proposition 19
is decided.

Councilman Larry Bragman, who has performed legal work for Shaw and
medical marijuana patients, said, "We can't afford to do that.
Freezing the status quo is a good idea for everybody."

Councilwoman Pam Hartwell-Herrero cast the dissenting vote; she said
she didn't see the urgency in such a moratorium and was concerned the
council was blurring the line between medical marijuana use and
general legalization.

Town staff speculated that Fairfax may be receiving more applications
now because several other Marin municipalities - Corte Madera,
Larkspur, Mill Valley, Sausalito and the unincorporated areas of the
county - have banned the opening of new marijuana dispensaries.

Speaking in support of the moratorium, Councilman David Weinsoff said,
"As the Marin town that has been most welcoming to the medical
marijuana community, this is a modest step that doesn't overreach." 
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