Mountain View Voice

News - February 18, 2011

City officials want delay of medical pot ordinance

Commission OK's pot dispensaries 600 feet from homes, schools

by Daniel DeBolt

Mountain View may become the only city in the county to specifically allow medical marijuana dispensaries, and city officials say they need more time to finish an ordinance, which would delay a City Council vote scheduled for Tuesday.

"Staff feels we need some more time to make sure we've covered everything in the ordinance," said City Attorney Jannie Quinn, who will recommend the council delay its vote on a draft ordinance. "We would be the only city in the county and we want to get it right."

A reason for delay, Quinn said, is that District Attorney Jeff Rosen is coming up with guidelines for medical marijuana dispensaries to operate as non-profits, which Quinn wants to incorporate into the city's own ordinance. That follows raids of several dispensaries in San Jose that were acting as for-profit business under the guise of their state-required non-profit status.

On Jan. 19, Mountain View's Environmental Planning Commission unanimously recommended to council a draft ordinance allowing marijuana dispensaries 600 feet from sensitive uses, defined as "any property where residential use is allowed, any child day-care facility, church, any school attended by minor children and park, playground, trail, public building or facility." The council may also choose an 800- or 1,000-foot option that may leave little space for dispensaries.

In December, Sunnyvale's City Council voted down a similar ordinance that would have allowed dispensaries, leaving Mountain View the only city in the area without a permanent or temporary ban. San Jose is now taxing dispensaries and has capped their numbers at 98, but doesn't specifically allow for them.

A City Council majority has expressed support for allowing marijuana dispensaries in Mountain View but has also disagreed about how many to allow and where to locate them.

In the proposed ordinance, the city attorney's office has proposed a conditional use permit process to select the best dispensaries for Mountain View. Potential operators would have to undergo a criminal background check and present detailed business plans, including security measures to prevent robberies. A "strict numeric cap" on how many can operate is unnecessary, city staff say, because their numbers would be severely restricted through required distances from sensitive uses and other dispensaries.

The ordinance reflects study by city staff on several complex issues, including whether medical marijuana should be tested for contamination and whether the city should also regulate marijuana growing operations.

The ordinance does not require safety testing of marijuana. "The testing available does not address concerns raised by the City Council," writes Krishan Chopra, assistant city attorney in the report. San Jose dispensary operators criticized the testing proposal in a recent Mountain View hearing, saying that it would only test a sample of a marijuana batch, and might not catch mold that could sicken users with a compromised immune systems.

As for grow operation regulations the city had expressed interest in, "state law does not address cultivation in a comprehensive manner," Krishan writes. "The source of medical marijuana is shrouded in mystery," and "the identities of cultivators are not disclosed due to fear of criminal prosecution and issues regarding the legality of cultivation and distribution under state law. For this reason, the proposed ordinance does not broadly undertake to regulate cultivation in the city."

For similar reasons concerning state law, the ordinance does not attempt to regulate the delivery of medical marijuana by dispensaries.

E-mail Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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