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City backpedals on pot: Council votes to disallow medical marijuana dispensaries

  1. jon-q
    CHICO — To avoid passing an ordinance that violates federal drug laws, the Chico City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday night to disallow medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.

    The vote introduced an ordinance repealing the ordinance that would have permitted two dispensaries in Chico. Council members Mary Flynn and Scott Gruendl dissented.

    Councilman Bob Evans said he didn't think amending the dispensary ordinance would eliminate the risk that the federal government could prosecute city staff and council members for facilitating dispensaries.

    "Being less illegal is kinda like being less pregnant," Evans said.

    "I don't want to put staff at risk," he said.

    On July 5, council members voted 4-3 to adopt the dispensary ordinance though the mayor had received a letter July 1 from a U.S. attorney stating the city's regulation breaks federal law. Mayor Ann Schwab and Councilmen Bob Evans and Mark Sorensen dissented.

    On July 14, the city manager, attorney and police chief met with U.S. attorney Benjamin Wagner and learned council members and city staff could face federal prosecution for facilitating dispensaries that break federal drug laws.

    City Manager Dave Burkland brought the issue back before the council Aug. 2, recommending that the board repeal the ordinance. Vice Mayor Jim Walker switched his vote, siding with Schwab, Evans and Sorensen to repeal the ordinance. The repeal does not change the ordinance allowing for residential grows in the city.

    The ordinance to repeal will come back before the council Sept. 6 for a public hearing and possible final adoption. City staff plans to watch any federal action against cities, counties and states for their medical marijuana regulations and bring the issue back to the council within six months.

    The issue was put on the consent agenda for Tuesday's meeting, a section for routine items where the council votes without discussion. Councilman

    Andy Holcombe asked for the issue to be pulled.

    Holcombe voted for the repeal but suggested amendments to the dispensary ordinance to have it better follow federal laws, eliminating references to cultivation and police oversight. His motion for amendments failed 4-3, with fellow council members Flynn and Gruendl also dissenting.

    Holcombe said he thinks the issue is simple.

    "This is a public health ordinance. That's how I see it," Holcombe said. "That's why we should pass it."

    He thinks the dispensary ordinance does not allow cultivation or commercial selling, but an alternative way for patients to get medicine, he said.

    "If the objective is to get medicine to seriously ill individuals, it only goes halfway," Holcombe said. "It only provides for seriously ill individuals who can grow in their residences. It leaves out those most in need — the seriously ill, so ill they can't grow their own."

    Walker said he thinks the situation is unfortunate but he thinks it's wise to wait.

    "I do believe in the intent of Proposition 215," Walker said. "I feel sad that we have to backtrack."

    Proposition 215 passed in California allows for seriously ill patients to obtain and use marijuana for medicinal purposes.

    Greg Keeney of the Chico Police Officers' Association told the council that the association stands against commercial selling of marijuana.

    Gruendl also said he thinks it's unfortunate the time it will take to pass a dispensary ordinance after waiting for possible federal prosecution of other jurisdictions. He thinks the ordinance the city will use will likely be the same as the one the council voted to repeal.

    "The difference will be nothing other than waiting," Gruendl said.

    Katy Sweeny
    ChicoER 17th Aug 2011


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