With the City Council expected to vote on marijuana regulation in February, four city officials sat at a table in front of the audience hoping to receive some valuable insights: City Attorney Jannie Quinn, Assistant City Attorney Krishan Chopra, police officer Derek Sousa and City Planner Melinda Denis.
"We recognize there's no one-size-fits-all approach to this" Chopra said, with Sousa adding, "We're here to listen."
Resident Brian David hopes to open the Shoreline Wellness Collective in Mountain View, but said he is also considering Sunnyvale, which may allow medical marijuana dispensaries soon. Currently no cities in the South Bay legally allow marijuana dispensaries, although authorities have often turned a blind eye to them in San Jose. Mountain View's neighboring cities of Palo Alto and Los Altos have a permanent ban on marijuana dispensaries.
The city is considering a requirement that all marijuana sold in a dispensary be grown on-site, but several dispensary operators and advocates from Mountain View, San Jose and Oakland said that would be impractical at best or a "nightmare" at worst.
Requiring on site growing is "an attractive option at first, but it's been found to not be viable," said former Oakland City Attorney James Anthony, who is now a consultant on medical marijuana policies. Basically, it would result in no interest in operating a dispensary in Mountain View, Anthony said.
"The amount of plants would be astronomical" said prospective dispensary operator and Mountain View resident Jon Lustig, considering the fact that many dispensaries have 1,500 patients. And there would be technical issues with growing 50 different strains that dispensaries usually sell in one space, he said.
Nevertheless, the city has an interest in where medical marijuana is coming from and how it is grown to ensure its safety, Quinn said. The city could still regulate and permit off-site grow operations within Mountain View.
Berkeley's City Council overwhelmingly passed an ordinance to allow 30,000-square-foot growing operations in its warehouse district. Oakland is considering even larger grow operations, but the Drug Enforcement Administration has warned that city it would have concerns with such operations and would keep an eye on "large scale" cultivation.
"The most difficult issue we face is cultivation," Quinn said. Figuring out how and where marijuana should be grown "is almost as big of a project as coming up with an ordinance." Unfortunately the state does not specify how this should be done and federal law prohibits it, she added.
If the city does allow grow operations, greenhouses are becoming the preferred method for growing, Anthony noted.
Testing for contamination
Mountain View is also considering a requirement that medical marijuana be tested for contamination before it is sold. Quinn pointed out one documented case of a person with a compromised immune system who died from smoking marijuana contaminated with mold.
Advocates called that case the exception, and said that testing a few grams of each pound grown, as some lab operations are now doing, wasn't a guarantee that all contamination would be caught. They said a trained eye was sufficient to examine it.
"My mother has been living with HIV for a decade and I'd never let her rely on any of these test results," said Lauren Vasquez of Americans for Safe Access. The lab testing "we have now is not sufficient."
Three Mountain View residents spoke at the meeting to express concerns and question the need for marijuana dispensaries. One asked why people needed to buy marijuana when people can take Marinol, a pill derived from the main psychoactive substance in Marijuana, THC. But medical marijuana advocates noted what has been widely reported, which is that Marinol leaves out hundreds of other substances in Marijuana that can help a person with pain or other particular ailments, which is why it doesn't work for many patients.
Resident Don Ball recommended that the dispensaries only be allowed to operate during daylight hours to help prevent any associated crime, while another resident said the dispensaries should go inside hospitals or the offices near El Camino hospital typically used for various specialty medical services.
Both ideas were criticized by medical marijuana advocates, who said that working people wouldn't have time to make it to dispensaries before dark, and that it was unlikely that dispensaries would be allowed in or near hospitals.
Addressing such concerns, Anthony said that in Oakland, which has had four dispensaries for years, "there are no nuisances or complaints associated with these dispensaries whatsoever."
A pageant process
In early conversations on the topic, City Council members disagreed on how many dispensaries should be allowed in Mountain View, with some saying there should be a limit, while Tom Means and John Inks have said there shouldn't be any monopolies on the business.
But dispensary owners and advocates who attended the meeting seemed to agree that there should be a limit and dispensary owners could compete in a pageant process for the permits. Prospective dispensary operators would describe things like "employee salaries, price structures and proposed services" and the City Council would pick the best dispensaries, Vasquez said.
Where would they go?
Under criticism at the meeting was a map the planning department created which shows where dispensaries could go if they had to be located 1,000 feet from sensitive uses: schools, churches, parks and residential areas. That leaves a few pockets along U.S. 101 and Highway 237.
Prospective dispensary operator David questioned whether the Sunnyvale golf course was truly a "sensitive use" as it is shown on the map, when a drug treatment center nearby was not. Also questioned was why churches were sensitive uses.
And with the police department raising concerns about safety issues and the possibility of dispensaries being robbed, many questioned why the city would push dispensaries into industrial neighborhoods where they would not only be harder to access, but also easier to rob as there are fewer people around to be eyes on the street. Advocates blamed a robbery of a San Jose dispensary on its location away from populated areas.
"You want to leave more discretion, more power for the City Council" and the public to figure this out, Anthony said. "Ninety-nine percent of the city is off limits. You need to look at what are your true sensitive uses."
One thing is certain — dispensaries in Mountain View would not be located near schools, as a new state law, AB2650, restricts the location of marijuana dispensaries to 600 feet from schools.
At least one council member is interested in restricting the dispensaries to Mountain View residents only, Quinn said, which was an unpopular idea.
"Restricting it to Mountain View residents doesn't make sense," Lustig said. "This is medication; people should have access to it."
The city could also regulate medical marijuana delivery services.
"A lot of people who can't get out of their home need deliveries," said Brian David, who hopes to open the Shoreline Wellness Collective.
Saying they had no desire to be robbed, medical marijuana advocates said they were willing to follow any rules the city came up with to provide security at dispensaries, which may include requirements for security cameras, cash-less transactions (credit cards and checks only), security guards, locked entrances with only card-carrying customers allowed, bars on windows, security lighting and alarm systems.
But some drew the line at requiring armed guards, saying guns were unnecessary and could cause further problems in the event of a robbery.