A last-minute planning commission meeting was called by city staff on the Tuesday before Christmas. The city attorney, police chief and community development director asked our commission to rush to pass new rules prohibiting or restricting cultivation of medical marijuana for personal use in Paso Robles. The staff said it was important to rush the issue because a state law created a window for passing this type ordinance that was expiring March 1.medical-marijuana-in-Paso-Robles1-300x232

The majority of the commissioners thought we were being forced to make an expedient and ill-informed decision based on the circumstances presented to us. There were many misunderstandings among the commissioners and city staff on the nature of these regulations.

For example, the police chief showed us photos of large marijuana grows in the city, and encouraged us to address them with a new ordinance. But they are already banned by state law. The Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act signed Oct. 9 bans personal medical marijuana cultivation larger that 100 square feet. The photos we were shown clearly violate existing legislation. This misinformation and other statements contributed to a hasty, ill-advised decision.

The commission voted 4-3 to forward both the ban and potential regulation limiting grows to indoors. I voted with Doug Barth and Vince Vanderlip against the motion, but the majority approved it. I was particularly surprised when two fellow commissioners said they did not think it was our responsibility to draft or alter ordinances. I really think it is quite the contrary; and city staff were prepared to make some recommended changes to the ordinance. We are there to serve the council and give our best recommendations to them. When we vote to forward an ordinance we become its author. We should take greater care and responsibility for our actions.

Following our vote, the city council voted unanimously to ban medical marijuana cultivation, unfortunately.

Before ever supporting a new law or ordinance, I think our representatives have a very high burden of proof that the new law is absolutely needed. In this case, there was almost no actual evidence, expert testimony, or demands from the citizenry supporting this ordinance. The city created an unnecessary ordinance to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.

The city has now inserted itself in between a doctor patient relationship, with no basis. The people of California voted 20 years ago to allow medical marijuana, and now we have stripped away those rights for suffering Paso Robles residents who wish to grow their own medicine.

I asked local residents what they thought of the city’s proposal and received over 50 messages. Not a single resident supported a ban or even additional regulations.

I hope we will have the opportunity to address these misunderstandings at a future date and consider an ordinance with appropriate public input and due process. I was pleased to see Councilman Fred Strong indicate he would like to address it again.

Here is an editorial in the Paso Robles Daily News, penned by Editor Skye Ravy, urging the city to re-consider its action:

Editorial: City should re-consider ban on personal medical marijuana cultivation

–At the Jan. 5 Paso Robles City Council meeting, the council unanimously voted to ban personal medical marijuana cultivation within city limits.

The state adopted the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act in October which allows city and county governments to adopt local ordinances to regulate medical marijuana by March 1, 2016. The council was adamant to retain local control, and passed the ban before the deadline so as to not have state law imposed upon the city.

Councilman Fred Strong expressed that he wanted to see the issue brought up again soon at a future meeting, and staff assured him that the council could still amend the ordinance at any time.

The council should consider amending the ordinance for a variety of reasons:

1) It conflicts with state law
Proposition 215, or the Compassionate Use Act, is a California law enacted on Nov. 5, 1996, which allows patients with a valid doctor’s recommendation to possess and cultivate marijuana for personal medical uses. The law is worded, “To ensure that patients and their primary caregivers who obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes upon the recommendation of a physician are not subject to criminal prosecution or sanction.” Although medical marijuana remains federally un-recognized, in October of 2009, the U.S. Justice Department announced that federal prosecutors would not pursue medical-marijuana users and distributors who comply with state laws.

2) It conflicts with San Luis Obispo County ordinances
On Dec. 15, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors voted to allow limited medical marijuana cultivation for personal use. They decided to implement a model based on Medocino County ordinances, allowing small grows of up to 25 plants. The City of San Luis Obispo recently reaffirmed its previous ruling that commercial medical marijuana cultivation is prohibited, but the city will not seek to stop individuals from cultivating it for private use.

3) It criminalizes the sick and suffering
Patients who have obtained a medical 215 card have the medical need for the plant, which has been proven to treat a variety of diseases, including cancer, epilepsy, AIDS, chronic pain and many others. As councilman Fred Strong said at the Jan. 5 meeting, sometimes patients with chronic or end-of-life pain have two options: to choose between an opium-based drug and a cannabis-based one.

In Time Magazine’s article, “A Brief History of Medical Marijuana,” it states that the plant has been touted for it’s medicinal properties as early as 2737 B.C., when Emperor Shen Neng of China prescribed marijuana tea for the treatment of gout, rheumatism, malaria, and poor memory. “The drug’s popularity as a medicine spread throughout Asia, the Middle East and down the eastern coast of Africa, and certain Hindu sects in India used marijuana for religious purposes and stress relief. Ancient physicians prescribed marijuana for everything from pain relief to earache to childbirth.”

In 1937, the U.S. passed the first federal law against cannabis, despite the objections of the American Medical Association. Dr. William C. Woodward, testifying on behalf of the AMA, told Congress that, “The American Medical Association knows of no evidence that marijuana is a dangerous drug” and warned that a prohibition “loses sight of the fact that future investigation may show that there are substantial medical uses for Cannabis,” according to safeaccessnow.org.

4) It may force patients to obtain the medicine illegally
Concerns were brought up at the council meeting that allowing limited personal marijuana cultivation may increase the rates of crime within city limits. This however, seems contradictory to common sense that would say that illegal activity would increase if law-abiding patients were suddenly not allowed to grow their own medicine in their own homes in a safe, controllable, and legal manner, and instead may potentially forced to obtain the medicine through the illegal drug trade. This could increase crime within the city as well as put patients in danger of consuming marijuana that has been laced with dangerous drugs.

When asked whether the council’s August 2014 decision to allow mobile dispenseries increased crime within the city or cost the city any money from additional police funding, Paso Robles Police Chief said that, “At this time, I know of no additional costs accrued due to the decision to allow mobile dispensaries to operate,” Burton said. “Fortunately for us, we have not seen an increase in violent crime associated with mobile dispensaries.”

5) It may make the medicine unaffordable for low-income patients
Mayor Steve Martin, as well as council members Steve Gregory and John Hamon, all expressed that, while they do not doubt that medical marijuana provides many benefits for people with certain diseases and ailments, they were in support of banning it’s cultivation. They said that not allowing patients to grow the plant is not be the same as denying access. This is assuming, however, that those patients can afford to purchase the plant through mobile dispensaries. According to Ernest Hall, owner of Green Dubs Garden of Paso Robles, just a single plant can provide a patient with up to $1,600 worth of product, which in many cases is enough to last patients a year or more.