Council votes to allow pot dispensaries

A letter from the Department of Justice stating its concern for Chico’s medical marijuana plan did not stop the City Council from passing the ordinance Tuesday.   Council members voted 4-3 to adopt the ordinance that would allow two dispensaries of 10,000 square feet or fewer each to open in the city.  The dispensaries would have to go through a public hearing process and get approval from council.  Mayor Ann Schwab and Councilmen Bob Evans and Mark Sorensen dissented.  Councilman Scott Gruendl said his yes vote does not support criminal activity, but a responsibility to constituents who deserve safe access.  “My intent is to provide a safe way for people in this community who are entitled to this type of medicine to have access to it without being persecuted for it,” Gruendl said.  The U.S. Department of Justice’s letter to Schwab listed the federal laws people could break while following the city ordinance. United States Attorney Benjamin Wagner of the eastern district of California signed the letter dated Friday.

“The department is concerned about the proposed ordinance in the city of Chico as it would authorize conduct contrary to federal law and threatens the federal government’s efforts to regulate the possession, manufacturing and trafficking of controlled substances,” Wagner wrote.  “Individuals who elect to operate industrial marijuana cultivation facilities will be doing so in violation of federal law.  Others who knowingly facilitate such industrial cultivation activities, including property owners, landlords and financiers, should also know that their conduct violates federal law.”   Evans told fellow council members he thinks the community could be committing a crime allowing dispensaries in Chico and recommended the council table the discussion until they have a clear picture of the federal government’s intent, he said.  City attorney Lori Barker said the federal government is putting states on notice of their inconsistency with its laws and that it could still come in and prosecute operations following state law but breaking federal law.

Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey addressed the council and said he thinks city staff could violate federal law with the ordinance and face prosecution, including Police Chief Mike Maloney.  “In general, I have some concerns about the road that we’re traveling down,” Maloney said.  Vice Mayor Jim Walker said he would like to make it clear to dispensary applicants the inconsistencies with state and federal law on medical marijuana.  Councilman Andy Holcombe urged the council to move forward with the ordinance he thinks does not decriminalize marijuana.  “I don’t think there’s any change in policy,” Holcombe said. “I don’t think there’s any change in risks.” On June 7, the council introduced the ordinance with the same members dissenting.  The dispensary application period will run from Aug. 5 to Nov. 7. On Nov. 8, the council will have a public hearing on dispensary applications.  Sorensen said he does not oppose medical marijuana for legitimate reasons in “the slightest bit.”

He thinks, however, the city will take on operational costs and that they could be aiding and abetting criminal activity, Sorensen said.  “We utterly dropped the football,” he said.  On another issue, the council voted 5-2 to introduce an ordinance to prohibit indoor wood burning on poor air quality days from November to March, with a few exceptions.  Evans and Sorensen dissented.  Exceptions would apply for certain EPA-certified stoves, structures that have no other source of heat or during power outages, manufactured logs in open fireplaces, and low-income residents who make 80 percent or less than the area median income.  The council also heard an update on the city’s final budget, which will have to be adjusted and brought back to council after the governor signed a bill last week taking away more than $500,000 of Chico’s revenue, said city manager Dave Burkland. Council members unanimously passed the budget.

via :  Contra Costa Times

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