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City Council talks medical marijuana

State electorate doesn't support prohibition, councilman says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Auburn is getting ready to impose fines to discourage medical marijuana dispensaries. In a 4-1 vote Monday night the Auburn City Council approved the first reading of an ordinance that would amend the municipal code for stores attempting to sell pot to patients by prescription. The amendment would impose civil fines rather than criminal charges. Medical marijuana dispensaries are currently prohibited in the city of Auburn. Will Wong, community development director for the city, said fines would start at $100 for the first violation, $200 for the second violation and reach $500 for additional violations. According to city documents, non-criminal penalties avoid conflict with the Compassionate Use Act and the Medical Marijuana Program Act, which “decriminalizes possession and cultivation of marijuana for specified medical purposes” at the state level. Councilman Keith Nesbitt voted against the ordinance. Although the council was not discussing reversing the prohibition, Nesbitt arranged for Jim Henry, co-owner of Golden State Patient Care Collective cannabis dispensary in Colfax, to speak earlier in the meeting about medical marijuana dispensaries. Henry offered some comments to the council about his type of business. “We know that there are problems,” Henry said. “We are very aware of it. Some of the good things about it are the tax benefits. As far as the medicine itself, we have quite a few people who come through our facility that are very sick.” Henry said dispensaries create tax revenue and jobs for a community as well as getting sick people relief they need. Henry said dispensaries don’t make it easier for children to obtain cannabis. Henry said he has been operating in Colfax for seven years, and there has never been a criminal incident at his shop. “I have got a very secure building,” he said. “We have cameras. We have a security guard onsite.” Sacramento has about 20 medical marijuana dispensaries currently, Henry said. Councilman Kevin Hanley said he has heard of several locations that are now trying to limit the number of dispensaries in their areas, even though the shops are legal. Mayor Bill Kirby offered mixed reactions to the topic. “As a physician I have a unique perspective on this,” Kirby said. “No. 1, I think it’s a drug, and I think it works in certain instances. The other bigger (issue) really is it’s a recreation drug and so is alcohol. That is certainly a different issue. I’m almost looking at this as, then again, alcohol is highly regulated. I don’t see that happening in this situation.” Kirby said he wouldn’t feel comfortable with dispensaries in Auburn unless the businesses were highly standardized and regulated. “Until that happens … I just have trouble supporting (the idea of having dispensaries in Auburn), even though I will acknowledge it has medical uses, and it does work.” City Attorney Michael Colantuono said although the council was looking at decriminalizing operating a dispensary, the city would probably never issue a ticket. Instead the business would have to leave Auburn and the city could sue its proprietors. “That is just how you do it,” Colantuono said. Auburn resident Bill Prior Sr. said he thinks dispensaries should be allowed in the city because of the revenues they can generate. “As the city of Auburn we are in a fight with the counties and state for tax revenues,” Prior said. “I don’t know what Auburn can do, but I know as tax dollars and fees (go), you are in a fight for your life.” Nesbitt said he wanted the council to revisit the issue of dispensary prohibition in the future, because he felt it goes against the state electorate and takes away an option that could help those in need. Nesbitt said medical marijuana could help people like his wife, who died of cancer, when traditional options aren’t working. “I’m praying that you guys never have a corresponding item (in your life), and I would really like to revisit this,” he said. Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com