Medi-pot regulations are no slam dunk
Council members disagree over marijuana safety-testing
Disagreements on the City Council Tuesday appeared to threaten the passage of an ordinance allowing regulated marijuana dispensaries in Mountain View.
Though five members have supported the passage of such an ordinance on the seven-member council, at Tuesday's study session council members John Inks and Tom Means, both Libertarians, wanted few regulations on dispensaries while other council members wanted the dispensaries to be highly-regulated or not to exist at all. Council member Jac Siegel opposed the ordinance while member Laura Macias was absent.
At the end of the June 1 meeting, some members said they would block the ordinance over their disagreements.
"It is just a plant," said Councilman Tom Means, in response to other council members who said the city should require marijuana be lab-tested for safety before it is sold in Mountain View storefront dispensaries. Mayor Ronit Bryant and others said that is what the Federal Drug Administration requires for any other medication.
Means, an economic professor at San Jose State University called it an" excessive inspection of goods," adding that "if operational requirements become excessive I won't be able to support these things."
"Well, if we don't have operational requirements I won't be able to support these things," Bryant said in response.
Bryant, a cancer survivor who has said she seriously considered using medical marijuana herself, appeared to be seriously reconsidering her support for the ordinance.
"I'm not sure I am ready for an ordinance," Bryant said at the end of the two-hour discussion.
Bryant was worried Mountain View would become the "go to" place for medical marijuana dispensaries which are banned in surrounding cities. Los Altos and Palo Alto have bans and there is a moratorium in Sunnyvale.
"I have no interest in being the center for dispensaries in our area," she said.
While Inks and Means opposed many of the draft regulations, many medical marijuana dispensary advocates welcomed them, with no opposition even to the safety testing of marijuana. Under the regulations, dispensary operators in Mountain View would have to apply for a conditional use permit to be renewed every year. That could require prospective operators to pass a criminal background check, marijuana may have to be safety tested and the dispensary itself may need to have security cameras, buzz-in entrances and security guards, among other things.
The only major concern from dispensary operators and medical marijuana advocates was a recommendation from the city attorney's office that dispensaries be 1,000 feet from "sensitive" areas, including parks, trails, schools, residences and any other area deemed "sensitive" by the city's zoning administrator. That left only a few tiny zones in the city where a dispensary could operate, mostly in industrial areas along Highway 101, and no guarantee any of the properties would be available for sale or lease.
In the case of Buddy's Cannabis Patient Collective on Bayshore Parkway, which may be skating on thin ice legally, the dispensary's location is 990 feet from a church, said operator Matt Lucero.
While a majority of council members expressed interest in relaxing those proposed zoning limits, even that was not a slam dunk.
"I am not sure we agree on zoning," said Bryant, who was unique in wanting a dispensary to be out in the open in more populated areas — something that would not be allowed under the proposed zoning.
Council members Inks, Means and Mike Kasperzak said they favored an option keeping dispensaries 500 feet from sensitive uses, while Abe-Koga supported the 1,000-foot recommendation.
Marijuana related arrests rise dramatically
There was some disagreement during the meeting about why Mountain View has seen a 396 percent increase in marijuana-related arrested since 2005. Police Chief Scott Vermeer said Tuesday that the marijuana-related arrests were not part of an organized effort by police.
"Our marijuana arrests fall into our lap," he said, blaming it on the increasing availability of marijuana from Bay Area dispensaries.
But resident Jon Lustig, who has been running an operation that delivers medical marijuana to patients in Santa Clara County, told the council that the city's police had been regularly arresting people who legally possessed medical marijuana.
Vermeer denied it, saying it was routine for police to not arrest people found with marijuana cards. But he also noted that there is no standard card given out by marijuana dispensaries to their customers. And the way police handle medical marijuana users has changed over the years, he said.
Susan Kharizi said Mountain Vie police wrongfully arrested her son for legally growing marijuana in his Mountain View apartment and that he now faces felony charges. At the end of the meeting, Police Chief Scott Vermeer met with Kharizi and said he would look into the case.
Data on marijuana-related arrests in Mountain View was included in a staff report from Deputy City Attorney Nicole Clemens about the draft dispensary ordinance. In Mountain View, police reported 214 marijuana-related arrests in 2009, including a man arrested for robbing another man at gunpoint during a marijuana deal. In another case, a high school student was found with lollipops made from marijuana, which concerned some council members who thought children could get hold of such products.
The report also notes the murder of Jeffrey Johnson in 2008, which also happened during a marijuana deal.
None of the Mountain View crimes took place at a marijuana dispensary, however, though Vermeer expressed concern that a dispensary could create crime elsewhere. Several medical marijuana advocates disagreed, saying that police chiefs in Los Angeles and San Francisco have said crime has not increased as a result of marijuana dispensaries in those cities. Of particular concern to the council was the robbery of a San Jose dispensary in May by four men, one whom was carrying a shotgun. Prospective Mountain View dispensary operator Brian David said that security measures could prevent such crimes.
"We in the police department are concerned about an ordinance that would allow a retail market storefront versus a compassionate, care-giving dispensary of medicine," Vermeer said. He noted ads in the Metro newspaper for San Jose dispensaries appear to seek to attract a younger demographic with a "night club, recreation feel."
"What the police department doesn't want to do is stand in the way of sick people getting what their doctor recommends for them," Vermeer said. "But there are unethical people who have opened dispensaries."
E-mail Daniel DeBolt at firstname.lastname@example.org