Proposed ban on mobile marijuana services fails in Paso Robles

Medical marijuana patients in Paso Robles and those who deliver their medicine celebrated a victory Tuesday night after the City Council deadlocked on whether to ban mobile delivery services.

With Councilman John Hamon absent, the council locked 2-2, with Mayor Duane Picanco and Councilman Ed Steinbeck voting to adopt an emergency ordinance banning the providers from city limits. Councilmen Fred Strong and Steve Martin voted against the ordinance.

Without a majority vote, the ordinance failed to pass.

In a well-attended and often emotional public hearing, the council got an earful from residents angry over what they called an attempt to shove through the ordinance in a city where marijuana storefronts are already outlawed.

Currently, there are no brick-and-mortar medical marijuana dispensaries anywhere in San Luis Obispo County.

Mobile delivery services have operated largely under the radar since the Medical Marijuana Program Act was signed into state law in 2003, allowing qualified patients to buy small quantities of cannabis.

City Administrative Services Director Jim Throop called Tuesday’s proposal a matter of housekeeping after the city banned brick-and-mortar dispensaries in 2007. He said the city became aware of the mobile delivery loophole after one provider came to the city for a business license. An Internet search found four mobile dispensaries that claim to make deliveries in Paso Robles, he said.

Paso Robles police Lt. Ty Lewis warned that medical marijuana attracts crime, and cited Throop’s staff report listing seven incidents countywide since 2009 in which medical marijuana users were victims of violent home invasions. 

Residents who spoke countered that none of those incidents occurred in Paso Robles and cited national statistics that suggest legal medicinal marijuana deters crime.

Eighteen people, most of them Paso Robles residents, spoke on the issue, most angry at what they called a one-sided staff report and the lack of notification to the public. Only one speaker was in favor of the ordinance.

“You didn’t even bother to find out how many people in your city need this,” Matt Franscioni said. “You blew it.”

“This was a totally one-sided staff report,” said Paso Robles resident Kathy Barnett. “Paso Robles already worships at the altar of alcohol. Instead of being proactive, we’re burying our heads in the sand.”

Martin said he agreed with Strong that the city was basing the proposed ordinance on an “area of fear.”

“I find it ironic that these ‘dealers of death’ applied for a business license,” Martin quipped, adding that the ordinance would force residents — who would have no place to legally purchase medical marijuana — to become criminals.

Strong said he has a family member who uses medical marijuana to treat a severe pain condition.

“I surely would never deny my own child medicine,” Strong said.

In explaining his stance, Picanco questioned cannabis’s medical value and shared an anecdote about a family member who suffers from shingles and doesn’t use marijuana.

“I’m sympathetic to anyone who’s ill,” Picanco said. “But she’s dealing with it — it does go away, you know.”

He suggested that residents could still buy marijuana from the local black market.

“Let’s admit it: People know how to get it,” Picanco said. “We have to admit that it’s available.”

Strong originally moved to create an ad hoc committee to form regulations for mobile dispensaries, but failing to reach a consensus, moved to reject the ordinance. Martin agreed, splitting the vote and ending the discussion.

Despite the council’s inaction, City Manager Jim App said Wednesday that there seems to be no authority in the city’s business license ordinance that would merit authorizing the one mobile dispensary’s application for a license. App said City Attorney Iris Yang was reviewing the case.

The debate in Paso Robles followed on the heels of a similar controversy recently in San Luis Obispo. The San Luis Obispo City Council considered banning mobile dispensaries in May but tabled the plan after dozens of residents packed the council chambers to protest.