The Escondido Council Chamber became a forum for a discussion of medical marijuana on the first meeting of the new year.
Council members passed an ordinance prohibiting medical marijuana dispensaries, cultivation and delivery of the substance at the Jan. 14 meeting. The city had already banned dispensaries, but followed the lead of the California League of Cities, which advised municipalities to set up “explicit legislation” against medical marijuana businesses.
Valley Center residents gathered Jan. 11 to hear about a marijuana collective being established in their unincorporated area. Medical marijuana business owners briefed them on the nature of the future facility on Nelson Way. The non-city area has no licensing power that would allow its residents to regulate the business. Under Escondido’s new zoning law, the city will refuse to license any dispensary, delivery service or cultivation operation. Transportation of marijuana is not prohibited if the carrier is traveling through the city.
Renee Myste of Valley Center, who holds a Health and Human Services card for medical marijuana to treat her insomnia, anxiety disorder and PTSD, told the council that the ordinance “would force people, qualified patients, to use the black market that everyone here knows exists, which would cause many more problems. It would cause patients to resort to pharmaceuticals with their terrible side effects and are very expensive and highly addictive, which cannabis is not.” She added that the ordinance would cause patients “to drive very long distances” to get their medicine and “it is very deep reaching to say that patients can’t cultivate their own medicine.”
Councilwoman Olga Diaz said the city should consider modifying its stance so that medical marijuana would be available to residents who need it.
“There has to be a way for us to solve the problem; just saying no won’t solve the problem,” she said. “I would like us to acknowledge that people who need this should have access to it in a safe manner,” she told the council.
Diaz voted for the ordinance, but said, “I would love the conversation to continue” about providing access to medical marijuana.
Assistant City Attorney Gary McCarthy answered a question about patients who grow their own, saying that cultivation is limited to six mature plants or 12 immature plants per patient. He said the state is moving away from that standard because marijuana plants can be quite large. New standards under consideration would limit a patient’s plot to 100 square feet. McCarthy said he asked a cultivator how much marijuana a 10 by 10 foot plot would produce. “He said it would turn out for one person at least 9.97 grams a day, which is much, much larger than needed for personal use.”
The rest of the council strongly opposed medical marijuana in Escondido.
Ed Gallo said, “I’ve been told it’s a gateway drug and I believe that’s true” and “I can’t believe that the medical community can’t come up with medications that are better than doing dope.” He added, “I don’t want to have the police department spending a lot of their resources on who’s growing weed in their back yard.”
Deputy Mayor Michael Morasco, a licensed physical therapist, said, “I see people who use medical marijuana all the time,” who had no problem obtaining it.
“I see it as something that is already being abused within the medical confines of utilization and distribution,” he said. “I only see it getting worse and more difficult to manage.”
Councilman John Masson and Mayor Sam Abed had law enforcement issues with medical marijuana.
Masson said he had heard of marijuana “delivery people being followed by thugs getting ready to rob them.”
Just such an incident occurred in Oceanside on Dec. 2. Three men robbed a delivery driver of a pound of marijuana. They were arrested on robbery charges, according to KUSI news. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported 26 similar Oceanside robberies in 2013.
“Our best action is to approve this ordinance and just shut it down and keep it out of here,” Masson said.
Mayor Abed said, “The number one priority for us as a city is the health and safety of the general public… and from other experiences in other cities youths would be exposed to marijuana. We’re not putting a huge restriction on medical use; you can go a few miles and get it.” The mayor said California should “develop a targeted approach instead of just issuing legislation left and right.”
Many interested parties agree. A Jan. 4 Los Angeles Times story, “Murky legal landscape on marijuana” said the U.S. Justice Department is pursuing cases against marijuana collectives despite Congress’ legislation that lifted a ban on medical marijuana more than a year ago. Federal law still lists marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, the same as heroin and LSD.