Atascadero eyes 10-month medical pot dispensaries ban

A 10-month moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries in Atascadero is being proposed by city staff to pre-empt such facilities from moving into town while a permanent ban gets drafted.

The Atascadero City Council will decide tonight if it will seek to repeal an existing ordinance that allows one dispensary provided it’s not within 1,000 feet of a school, church or park.

City Attorney Brian Pierek will present what he says is supporting evidence connecting dispensaries with increased criminal activity — citing reports from the California Police Chief’s Association.

In a report to the council, Pierek said Atascadero could be considered liable by allowing dispensaries to operate within city limits — although no cities or counties have been prosecuted for aiding and abetting.

In September, the City Council voted to adopt a 45-day moratorium on the establishment or operation of a medical marijuana facility to give staff more time to study the issue. The move was prompted after city staff received several calls from people expressing interest in opening dispensaries.

In San Luis Obispo County, six of the seven cities have passed ordinances prohibiting the establishment or operation of medical marijuana facilities. Atascadero is the only city to lack such an ordinance.

In 1996, California voters approved Proposition 215, which allows the use of medical marijuana under certain circumstances.

But it’s illegal under federal law, though U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has said that the Justice Department would no longer prosecute medical marijuana dispensaries as long as they follow state laws.

In June former Morro Bay medical marijuana dispensary owner Charles Lynch, 47, was sentenced to a reduced term of a year and a day in prison.

Lynch’s case was watched closely by supporters of medical marijuana because it involved clashing state and federal marijuana laws. President Obama’s campaign pledge to respect medical marijuana laws in California and the 12 other states that allow such use of the drug gave Lynch’s case heightened scrutiny.

In Atascadero, four of the five council members must vote in favor the ban for the urgency ordinance to pass.

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939.