A proposed temporary ban on medical marijuana dispensaries in Mountain View fizzled during Tuesday night's council meeting, even though most members appear to support the dispensaries and hoped a moratorium would buy them time to write proper regulations.
Council members Tom Means and John Inks blocked the proposed interim "urgency" prohibition ordinance, which required six votes and would have immediately prevented several interested parties from opening a medical marijuana dispensary in the city for 45 days.
In response, council member Mike Kasperzak suggested a different kind of moratorium which requires only four votes and would go into effect in 30 days. City attorney Jannie Quinn said she would return with that proposal at a future meeting.
In general, most council members seemed to be supportive of allowing a dispensary in the city as long as regulations were in place. The temporary ban would allow time to create those regulations, they said.
"Obviously there is some interest," said Margaret Abe Koga, in remarks echoed by fellow council member Jac Siegel.
"I certainly think that if people need marijuana medically they should be able to get it," said Mayor Ronit Bryant. "I am a cancer survivor myself. My doctor gave me some artificial marijuana (Marinol). Had it not worked I would have wanted the real thing if that would have helped me."
As far as creating regulations, she said, "The less time it takes the better."
Council member Means was pressured by Kasperzak to change his vote so the ban could be put in place. "Without a moratorium, we start getting an influx of applications staff doesn't know what to do with," said Kasperzak, who supported a proposal for a marijuana dispensary when he was on the council in 2005.
The sticking point for Kasperzak and others appeared to be choosing an appropriate location for a dispensary. "Where would you put it?" he asked.
"If we are only going to deal with land issues I might support that," Means said. "I worry it will become another big city regulation on stuff."
Means and Inks, both libertarians, said they were wary of city regulations limiting the number of dispensaries in the city, which could create a monopoly for the "Shoreline Wellness Collective" proposed by resident Brian David. David wants to operate near Shoreline Amphitheatre away from residential neighborhoods and schools, a proven "best practice" according to medical marijuana advocates who spoke at Tuesday's meeting.
Without the temporary ban in effect, some said the city could end up in expensive litigation to try to shut down dispensaries that opened up in the meantime. Such a lawsuit is now being considered in Gilroy, where a ban was passed after several dispensaries had opened.
In defense of his decision, Inks said the moratorium would be "delaying resolution for some people regarding their health. I think that weighs more than taking some urgency stance. I don't see any justification to pass this ordinance tonight."
Inks said he visited a dispensary in Santa Clara called Angel's Care, which he said was operating under state laws for dispensaries in an industrial neighborhood.
"I would encourage you to drop by the place," he said. "It was very tightly controlled with a metal detector at the door. I did not get past the front door because I did not have doctor's approval. If I didn't see the sign I wouldn't have been able to find the place. There was no loitering and no smoking on the premises."
Some suggested that the city follow the lead of Oakland, where voters approved a 1.8 percent sales tax on its four medical marijuana dispensaries, which is projected to create $3 million in revenue in its first year. Means and Inks opposed such a tax, which could help fix the city's $5 million budget deficit, and Bryant agreed.
"I have no interest in taxing what sick people need," Bryant said. "That's not the way I want to balance the city budget."
No members of the public spoke in opposition if a dispensary, but several medical marijuana advocates spoke in favor. One said a dispensary would help "put drug dealers out of business," and another said opponents would not be able to "provide one scrap of evidence" that dispensaries are sources of increased crime, an opinion reflected by statements from the California Police Chief's Association and quoted in a city staff report.
Several speakers pointed to statements to the contrary, made recently by the Los Angeles police chief, that dispensaries have not been the magnets for crime critics say they are.
Brian David hired Max Del Real, "The only registered medical marijuana lobbyist in the state," to lobby the city. Del Real said he supported the temporary ban, calling it "nothing more than a pause" so the city could figure out the best way forward. He suggested that the city limit the number of dispensaries within its boundaries to address fears that they might lead to crime and public safety issues.
Del Real said that he had been traveling the state working with mayors, city managers and chiefs of police on the issue, and could provide "500 hours of research" on "best practices" for dealing with medical marijuana.
"The city of Mountain View does not need to reinvent the wheel," he said. He said the city of Santa Rosa, for example, had embraced a voluntary tax on dispensaries which has helped fund city services.
Council member Laura Macias echoed a point made by city attorney Quinn that there still exists a conflict between federal law and state law, despite orders from the Obama administration to not prosecute medical marijuana users.
"While this attorney general has said there is not going to be any real action (against medical marijuana), it is still an uncomfortable position we're placed in," she said.