Mountain View Voice

Opinion - February 5, 2010

Clarity needed on marijuana issue

It would be difficult to dream up a more fuzzy set of rules than those now used to govern the use of medical marijuana in California.

Since 1996, when voter support for a state initiative legalized the use of pot for medicinal purposes, state law has been at odds with federal law about possession and use of so-called "medical marijuana." Even after that vote, federal agents sometimes raided and shut down dispensaries that openly sold "California-legal" weed to anyone who presented a valid prescription from a doctor or other health care professional.

About five years ago, the Mountain View City Council voted 4-3 against permitting a medical marijuana dispensary to open in Mountain View, although one council member said she felt pressure from federal drug agents, who on the night of the vote came to City Hall to speak against the idea.

What a difference five years makes. Today, there are numerous applicants once again asking the city for permission to open pot dispensaries, a result of the Obama administration relaxing enforcement of the federal laws. The result is a legal minefield for city officials, given that pot remains illegal under federal law and there are significant questions about how much a person can transport, among other concerns.

Meanwhile, other purveyors have decided to forgo brick-and-mortar dispensaries and simply deliver their pot door-to-door. Among them is Jonathan Lustig, the Mountain View man who made the original request to City Hall five years ago, and who has since started his own operation, Seventh Heaven, which he calls a "collective" consisting of "myself and a group of patients who lack access to their medication."

With these factors in mind, it will be up to the City Council to decide whether Mountain View should join other cities that have approved dispensaries, or follow Gilroy, which banned them outright, or San Jose, which plans to levy a $2,500-a-day fine for dispensaries staying open within its borders.

These two cities may have good reasons to block medicinal marijuana shops, but in our view, the action will simply drive the traffic underground, making it even more difficult for law enforcement.

If the council eventually decides to allow dispensaries in Mountain View, it would be wise to keep the shops away from residential areas. One applicant, Brian David, said he wants to open a dispensary near Shoreline Amphitheater, far from schools and residential neighborhoods. Other applicants note that current zoning regulations make it difficult to open a shop without a zoning variance approved by the council.

Despite the mixed enforcement messages coming from state and federal officials, medical marijuana is here to stay and either will be dispensed from local, regulated shops or underground by dealers. Whatever path the city takes on medical marijuana dispensaries, public safety must be the primary concern.

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