Pubdate: Tue, 01 Mar 2011 Source: Record, The (Stockton, CA) Copyright: 2011 The Record Contact: http://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/section?Category=A_OPINION05 Website: http://www.recordnet.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/428 Author: Zachary K. Johnson, Record Staff Writer S.J. COUNTY READY TO RULE ON POT BAN 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 dispensaries. 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." - --- MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.