Mountain View Voice

Opinion - March 4, 2011

A good decision on marijuana

After having months to think about it, two City Council members changed their minds last week and joined two colleagues to scuttle the city's plan to authorize the sale of medical marijuana.

It was a courageous decision by Ronit Bryant and Margaret Abe-Koga, who, with Mayor Jac Siegel and Laura Macias, defeated a plan that would have opened the city to three or more marijuana dispensaries. It is a subject that has confounded cities up and down the Peninsula, which are basically left to decide whether, when and how to regulate sale of what is a medicinal drug for some and a wildly popular recreational drug for millions of others.

In the 11th hour, the two council members decided that rather than stand alone, Mountain View should hold back on approval, at least until the Santa Clara District Attorney's office issues guidelines on how to determine the nonprofit status of local dispensaries of medical marijuana. The decision means the city will be in step with similar actions in Los Altos, Sunnyvale and Palo Alto prohibiting sale of the drug, which currently is available only in San Jose and Oakland.

In all the testimony leading up to last week's vote, we did not see a compelling reason for Mountain View to rush into this decision and become the only Peninsula city to authorize dispensaries. Those truly in need of marijuana for medical reasons already have their sources, and if they are not able to find a convenient supplier, many dispensaries offer home delivery.

The local residents who spoke before the vote were clearly concerned about allowing the clubs to set up shop here, with good reason. Even though the first draft of the city's regulations requires a dispensary to be 600 feet away from homes, parks and schools, a location at the San Antonio Shopping Center, where hundreds of teenagers come and go every day, would have fit under the guidelines. Other potential sites would have been more remote, along U.S. 101 and on Highway 237.

The council also heard from Mountain View Police Capt. Max Bosel, who said the department officials are concerned that people would try to resell marijuana purchased legally from a dispensary in town.

Those in favor mostly came from the industry and continue to fall back on the argument that dispensaries are doing a public service by serving the truly sick who cannot be treated with traditional drugs.

But some who spoke, including Mayor Jac Siegel, shared anecdotal stories that together showed how easy it is for anyone, not just the truly sick, to obtain a marijuana card.

The Mayor said he went online and within 10 minutes had a doctor offering him a card for $49 after answering 10 questions.

Another person said a doctor at an office near San Jose State showed him a list of 10 reasons why medical marijuana can be prescribed. After mentioning arthritis in his thumbs, he was quickly issued a card.

The best way to solve the medical marijuana question should come from the state, not the cities or counties. As noted in a San Francisco Chronicle editorial Monday, the state of Colorado adopted a set of rules governing all facets of production and sale of medical marijuana, including license fees and serious scrutiny of production workers and grow rooms. Licenses bring the state $9 million a year.

California has no guidelines on the books, so cities are left on their own to oversee sale and production of marijuana, without the resources to do it in a way that would satisfy the growers, users and sellers.

That's why last week's vote is the best solution for Mountain View. The city should wait until more guidance is offered from the state before attempting to write its own marijuana ordinance.

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