Paso Robles to allow mobile marijuana dispensaries

Residents crowded the Paso Robles City Council chambers during a discussion on mobile medical marijuana dispensaries on Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014.
Residents crowded the Paso Robles City Council chambers during a discussion on mobile medical marijuana dispensaries on Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. tstrickland@thetribunenews.com

Mobile medical marijuana dispensaries can operate in Paso Robles after city leaders agreed not to take further action on the issue Tuesday night.

The Paso Robles City Council met Tuesday in a follow-up discussion to its July 15 session, where it deadlocked 2-2 on a vote to ban medical marijuana delivery services within the city. Without a majority vote, the ban failed to pass. Councilman John Hamon was absent from that first meeting.

On Tuesday, with all five councilmen in attendance and a room largely filled with an emotional crowd in support of allowing mobile delivery services, the council took a mostly procedural step.

The council voted 3-2 to receive and file a staff report that answered a question the council raised in the earlier meeting: whether any state or other regulations exist pertaining to operating a medical marijuana dispensary. The staff report said there are none.

On Tuesday, the council opted not to go with two other options on the table: to support a ban or to issue a business license to the lone mobile medical marijuana dispensary that had applied for one earlier this summer.

Brick-and-mortar medical marijuana shops were prohibited in the city in 2007, but since the ordinance failed to include mobile delivery services as well, city staff was unsure of what to tell the business seeking the license, which brought the issue before the council.

On July 15, Mayor Duane Picanco and Councilman Ed Steinbeck voted to adopt an emergency ordinance banning the providers from city limits. Councilmen Fred Strong and Steve Martin voted against the ban.

Hamon, Picanco and Steinbeck all stated at Tuesday’s meeting that they didn’t support any distribution of medical marijuana in town, gaining audible groans from the crowd. 

But when it came to a vote, Steinbeck joined Strong and Martin in voting only to receive and file the report, while Hamon and Picanco voted not to.

More than a dozen speakers supported the operation of medical marijuana delivery services.

Paso Robles resident Melissa Chaney, who said she has a crushed nerves disorder, said mobile medical marijuana services offer her family safety compared to the alternative.

“I don’t want to go down the block and find it ... I don’t want to be illegal,” she said.

Resident Cari Henry voiced similar sentiments, saying her father suffers from bladder cancer and finds some relief with medical marijuana. They said they wouldn’t want to have to get marijuana on the black market should a ban go into effect.

“I’m not going to make my dad, a 72-year-old man, into a criminal,” she said.

During the council discussion, Hamon said, “To condone it through a legalized distribution through the city, it sends a signal that I don’t, that I can’t support.”

Picanco said he was sympathetic to the crowd. 

“It is very hard to sit here and listen to people that are truly in need of some sort of medication. We can’t debate that,” he said. “What I don’t agree with is the process in which this is being handled.”

Picanco said he was concerned about doctors who write prescriptions for people who just want to get high and said medical marijuana should be “dispensed like any other medication through a pharmacy. That’s just my position.”

His comments prompted some in the crowd to yell at Picanco before Strong ended the ruckus by making a motion to receive and file the report.

No medical marijuana storefronts exist in San Luis Obispo County, and though a land ordinance for unincorporated areas technically allows for them, no business has met requirements or survived an appeal thus far.

In May, the San Luis Obispo City Council considered passing an ordinance banning mobile dispensaries but tabled the issue after an extensive public outcry.