Pubdate: Tue, 01 Mar 2011
Source: Record, The (Stockton, CA)
Copyright: 2011 The Record
Author: Zachary K. Johnson, Record Staff Writer


Vote Would Not Affect Whatever Action Cities Take

STOCKTON - Officials today will consider banning medical marijuana
dispensaries in unincorporated San Joaquin County.

Today marks the last day of a yearlong moratorium on the dispensaries
approved by the county Board of Supervisors. At the end of a year of
review, county staff is recommending a permanent ban, citing the cost
of enforcement, the possibility of increased crime, and the conflict
between state and federal laws over medical use of the drug.

Supervisors are set to vote today on either enacting a permanent ban
or extending the moratorium and drafting rules to allow dispensaries
in the county.

The unincorporated area under the purview of county government
surrounds all seven cities in San Joaquin County as well as some
pockets within city limits. As such, the county shouldn't allow
dispensaries if that is in direct opposition to planning in a
particular city, board Chairman Larry Ruhstaller said.

"We're not saying it's a terrible thing. ... We're not saying it's a
great thing," he said. "If any of the incorporated cities wish to have
it, they can," he said. "My take is to go forth and prosper."

The cities themselves have split in their approach to the medical
marijuana question.

If the supervisors approve a ban, it would follow a decision last
month by the Lodi City Council to ban dispensaries in that city.

In August, Stockton approved an ordinance that would allow up to three
dispensaries within the city. A city selection committee is scheduled
to choose from nine applicants March 14. In November, Stockton
residents voted in a 2.5 percent sales tax for medical marijuana

Also in November, California voters shot down a statewide ballot
measure that would have legalized marijuana for recreational use. In
1996, state voters approved the Compassionate Use Act, which allows
use of marijuana for medical purposes when recommended by a doctor.
Marijuana use remains illegal under federal law.

The ban on dispensaries would not prevent qualified patients from
using marijuana or forming collectives with other patients and
caregivers to obtain marijuana, the county report said. Allowing the
dispensaries to operate would require regulations that would take
steps to minimize the impact to areas around dispensaries.

Such regulations would be difficult and expensive to enforce,
Assistant County Counsel Mark Myles said. "From all appearances, the
regulation and oversight of medical marijuana dispensaries is costly,"
he said. "If you have scarce resources, you have to plan where you're
going to put them."

A ban doesn't stand up for rights of patients who use marijuana for
treatment, said Craig Litwin, a medical marijuana consultant. It's
better to regulate marijuana dispensaries than to ban something that
is taking place anyway, he said. "It's kind of turning a blind eye to
something that's happening."

Despite the moratorium, at least one dispensary opened in an
unincorporated area within Stockton.

Stockton officials said the city had taken no position on whether the
county should implement a ban.

After dispensaries began appearing in Stockton, the city drafted clear
rules for operation and enforcement within the city limits, Stockton
Mayor Ann Johnston said. The city's ordinance lays out clear rules
that can be enforced, she said, and it's up to county government to
decide what happens in unincorporated areas.

If the county approves a permanent ban, it could mean more business
for dispensaries in Stockton.

"That's OK. We're not going to argue with more business coming into
Stockton," Johnston said, "even if it's for medical marijuana."
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