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October 14, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, October 14, 2005

City will study sale of pot City will study sale of pot (October 14, 2005)

Council splits on allowing clubs, will reconsider the issue later

By Jon Wiener

Intense media coverage and an ongoing string of testimonials about the wonders of medicinal marijuana were not enough to inspire the city council to approve a policy regarding medicinal marijuana clubs Tuesday night.

Council members were split about whether the city should allow Jonathan Lustig to open Santa Clara County's first dispensary in Mountain View. Those who said they were swayed by the personal stories of marijuana patients said they still had some questions to resolve. Several others cited concerns about flouting federal law and luring criminal activity to the city.

Ultimately, the council decided 4-2 to revisit the issue at a study session no sooner than December. The study session will allow council member Laura Macias, who missed the meeting, to add her opinion to an evenly divided council.

"It's right about on par with what I expected," said Lustig after the meeting.

Lustig has become a familiar face around City Hall in recent months. The 26-year-old Mountain View resident first came forward this summer, saying he had identified funding and wanted to open a dispensary in his hometown. But the city stalled, lacking a defined policy about where such facilities could open and wary of running afoul of a recent Supreme Court decision empowering federal agents to raid clubs in California.

Tuesday, Lustig was one of 14 speakers who told the council of the medical value of marijuana. Justin Merrick credited the drug for helping him beat depression and get over his suicidal tendencies. Paul O'Leary said his mother had taken it since she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer seven months ago. Sixteen-year-old Erica Andrade explained how she used it to overcome Tourette's Syndrome and insomnia.

"We have an historic opportunity to lead," said Mayor Matt Neely, breaking with tradition and leading off the council's deliberation. He commended council member Greg Perry "for having the courage to bring it up" and mentioned a constituent's suggestion that Lustig locate his facility in the police department to prevent criminal activity.

Vice Mayor Nick Galiotto read from a news account of violent attacks on clubs in Alameda County, and said he did not think a facility was appropriate.

"For me it's not about the legitimacy of whether or not the need exists," he said. "For me the issue is the impact on our community."

An ill-timed verbal jab by Greg Perry nearly torpedoed the discussion once and for all. With members apparently headed for a 3-3 deadlock, Perry vented his frustration with the council's continued inability to reach an agreement on the issue. Just before the vote on whether to continue the discussion at the next meeting, Perry accused two other council members of "hiding" behind the notion that pharmacies could sell pot.

"We need to make hard decisions here. This is not what I ran for," said Perry.

Perry's words drew applause from the audience but appeared to seal the opposition of council members Matt Pear and Tom Means to a proposal that would have put off a decision until the next council meeting, when Laura Macias (at home with a broken shoulder) would return and cast a tie-breaking vote. Galiotto joined them in voting against the motion. Perry, Mike Kasperzak and Neely voted for it.

Means and Pear responded sharply.

"I understand that you're not a trained economist and you may not know how markets are put together," said Means, who teaches economics at San Jose State University.

A repentant Perry was later able to get Means to support the motion to revisit the discussion at a study session, which will put less pressure on Macias and also limit the options the council will consider. The proposal called for city staff to find out more about the experiences of three cities with pot clubs -- San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Hayward -- and explain how Mountain View might encourage the sale of marijuana at pharmacies.

E-mail Jon Wiener at [email protected]

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