Editorial

SLO City Council shouldn’t go too far on medical marijuana regulations

Banning mobile dispensaries would be a hardship for those with a legitimate need

letters@thetribunenews.comMay 6, 2014 

Marijuana plants growing in a backyard in San Luis Obispo.

COURTESY PHOTO

Residents of a San Luis Obispo neighborhood are outraged over the backyard cultivation of a dozen mature marijuana plants, which is allowed under the state’s voter-approved Compassionate Use Act.

In response to concerns, the City Council is meeting this afternoon to consider a blanket ban on outdoor cultivation of marijuana. Limited indoor cultivation of medical marijuana would still be allowed under the city’s proposed ordinance.

The city also is considering a ban on mobile marijuana dispensaries.

We agree there are valid reasons to further regulate outdoor cultivation: The pot has a pungent odor (hence the nickname “skunkweed”); outdoor grows can be a magnet for violent criminal activity; and there are loopholes in the law that permit cultivation on a larger scale than voters may have envisioned. For example, the law allows an individual with a medical marijuana prescription to cultivate as many as six plants, but in the case cited in San Luis Obispo, two people in the household had prescriptions, allowing up to 12 plants. (The cultivation is now being done indoors.)

We believe the City Council should revisit its regulations.

However, we would hate to see one egregious case lead to a crackdown that would make it more difficult for sick people with legitimate needs to obtain medical marijuana.

Rather than banning outdoor cultivation altogether, the city could consider strictly limiting the total number of plants per household. If problems persist, then go with a total outdoor ban.

What’s more concerning to us, though, is the city’s proposed ban on mobile dispensaries.

San Luis Obispo County doesn’t have a single “brick and mortar” dispensary, making mobile dispensaries a viable and — dare we say it? — compassionate alternative for patients who would otherwise have to travel long distances to buy medical marijuana.

Granted, the city’s proposed ordinance would still allow patients and their caretakers to grow their own plants indoors. But we believe it’s asking a lot of those who are already dealing with, say, the rigors of chemotherapy to take on marijuana cultivation on top of doctors visits, lab tests, household chores, etc.

Rather than banning mobile dispensaries altogether, we urge the city to explore ways to better regulate them, such as by requiring business licenses and seller’s permits.

That idea was raised in the 2011-12 county grand jury report on medical marijuana, which had this to say: “An unknown number of unregulated medical marijuana delivery services are active in both the cities and the unincorporated areas of the county. These delivery services have created a ‘gray’ market that local government is ignoring.

“As a result, safe access for those legally authorized for medical marijuana use is not ensured, thereby placing the safety of the community at risk. Well-defined governmental regulation and oversight would support health care providers and optimize patient safety and well-being by ensuring safe access to medical marijuana for those legally authorized, while limiting its diversion to recreational use.”

Exactly.

We agree the Compassionate Use Act has opened the door to numerous abuses, but we cannot lose sight of the original intent of the law: to alleviate pain and suffering in those with legitimate medical needs.

Local agencies have a duty to them, as well as to residents of neighborhoods who don’t want outdoor pot farms in their midst.

We believe a compromise can be achieved that would protect both groups. The city’s proposed ordinance does not meet that goal.

We strongly urge the city of San Luis Obispo to continue to study this important issue and work on regulating mobile dispensaries, rather than banning them completely.

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