Antioch council bans medical marijuana shops
By James Ott
Antioch City Council voted to permanently ban medical marijuana facilities from the city after saying there are continuing concerns over problems with regulation and possible increases in crime.
The move makes permanent a temporary ban that had passed in April 2011 citing similar concerns.
At Tuesday’s meeting council members said that they don’t have necessarily have a problem with marijuana as a medicine but they believe it should be dispensed only by medical facilities and pharmacies.
“I don’t have a horse in this race,” said Agopian. “If doctors decide that they want to give to their patients a particular type of medicine that they need then I want doctors to be able to do that. [But] they can do it through… pharmacies.”
City Attorney Tracy Nerland pointed out that the ban would do just that – only prevent marijuana dispensaries and cooperatives from selling and growing marijuana. Patients would still be able to get marijuana for medicinal purposes from licensed medical facilities such as clinics, health care facilities and residential care facilities.
Agopian also said that he would like to see research done on the medical benefits of cannabis.
There are in fact, many published studies that show that marijuana – particularly through the compound THC – has produced medical benefits to patients suffering from a variety of diseases including chronic pain, ALS, Alzheimer’s, cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS , and multiple sclerosis. It has also been shown to be measurably safer than most other prescription drugs.
It was on the strength of such studies that California became the first state to legalize marijuana for medical use through the “Passionate Use Act” or Prop 215 in 1996.
After the passage of Senate Bill 420, the state allowed patients to get a medical marijuana card through their doctor and made legal the medical marijuana dispensaries that Antioch is currently banning.
Community Development Director Tina Wehrmeister said that the city is in a particularly precarious situation because while California has legalized medical cannabis – the federal government still classifies marijuana as a schedule one drug with no medicinal benefits.
“U.S. attorneys have stated that California cities and their officials face possible criminal prosecution for enabling medical marijuana facilities to operate in violation of federal law,” said Wehrmeister.
Both council member Mary Rocha and Mayor Wade Harper – who is a former Drug Abuse Resistance Education, (D.A.R.E.), instructor – said that they are concerned that loose regulations on medical marijuana facilities might allow cannabis to get in the hands of those who don’t need it, particularly among the youth where it is a popular recreational drug.
Two members of the community spoke up against the ban including mixed martial artist Dan Black and Ed Breslin of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Cannabis Division that represents workers in the medical marijuana industry.
Both Black and Breslin asked the city to do more research and consider alternatives before banning dispensaries outright. They cited the large revenue the city might generate from such businesses.
According to the New York Times, California’s medical marijuana industry pumped about $2 billion into the state economy in 2008 and brought in $100 million in sales tax that same year.
Council member Tony Tiscareno – who was the only one to vote against the ban – agreed somewhat, saying that he wanted to hear more before he ruled out a potential large revenue source for struggling Antioch.
Mayor Wade Harper disagreed saying he had a moral problem with making money from the medical dispensaries.
“I’m one who believes that all money isn’t good money,” he said.
The final vote was four to one in favor of the ban.