SLO council decides not to ban medical marijuana dispensaries or outdoor pot plants

The issue drew one of the largest crowds of the past year to a City Council meeting

acornejo@thetribunenews.comMay 6, 2014 

Medical marijuana advocates in San Luis Obispo triumphed Tuesday night against an ordinance that would have severely restricted their rights to grow and distribute marijuana within city limits.

In front of a packed audience, the San Luis Obispo City Council voted 4-1 to table a proposed law that would have banned mobile dispensaries and prohibited marijuana plants from being grown outside.

Instead, the council decided not to ban the dispensaries and directed city staff to search for ways to deal with egregious cases of marijuana cultivation that may cause a public nuisance.

The issue drew one of the largest crowds in the past year to a City Council meeting, and it led to more than two hours of public comment, with 47 people speaking to the council. The majority were against the proposed ordinance.

Councilman Dan Carpenter, the lone dissenting vote, said he was uncomfortable regulating the use of a drug that is illegal under federal law.

The proposed regulation stemmed from a complaint made to the council in November by several neighbors living near a house in downtown San Luis Obispo where residents were growing 12 6-foot-tall marijuana plants in the backyard.

The smell from the plants was strong enough to cause a nearby day care to close, said Biz Steinberg, Community Action Partnership’s chief executive officer. She said day care staff had called the gas company, the fire department and the public health department before learning the origin of the smell.

The majority of council members seemed to agree Tuesday that such a large marijuana grow was indeed a nuisance that needed to be addressed, but not by banning outdoor growing completely.

“It wasn’t just a smell but an odor so invasive that it is not acceptable,” Mayor Jan Marx said. “There are no tools right now to deal with this kind of situation. … I would like to see the nuisance issue addressed.”

The council also directed city staffers to seek more public input and to include the city’s Human Relations Commission and the Planning Commission in the process as they come up with a new approach for handling similar situations.

On Tuesday, people from throughout the county and beyond shared story after story of the medical ailments — both theirs and their loved ones’ — that have been alleviated by marijuana. 

Paul Ogren, whose wife, former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice and Cal Poly administrator Sandra Gardebring Ogren, died of cancer in 2010, told the council of the difficult time they had accessing medical marijuana when she needed it to curb the nausea from chemotherapy. 

“You forced my wife to become an outlaw — shame on you,” said Ogren, eliciting cheers from the audience. “It is sheer hypocrisy to be considering this ordinance today. … We are not going to get mad, we are going to organize, and you will be made to pay.”

Frank Mognett told the council that he has been smoking marijuana for years to deal with anxiety.

“What a wonderful drug,” Mognett said. “It made it possible for me to become a useful citizen. The last four years I was able to get it delivered but for the previous 48 years I got it on the illegal market. … I do not want to go back to those times.”

Christine Mulholland, a former councilwoman and longtime medical marijuana activist, asked the council to table the proposed ordinance and start from scratch.

“Start over if you feel there is a problem in need of a solution, because what you have here is a solution looking for a problem,” she said.

Councilwoman Kathy Smith agreed.

“There was one property with (marijuana) trees on it creating a nuisance in that area that was brought to City Council,” Smith said. “We directed staff to help us determine how we deal with that issue. When the ordinance came back to us I was shocked. I don’t feel this is a police state.”

Councilman John Ashbaugh mocked the ordinance, saying, “The only way I would pass this is if I had too many hits on the bong.”

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.

The Tribune is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service