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Lathrop not ready for ‘Redbox’ marijuana

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POSTED December 5, 2013 1:10 a.m.

LATHROP – It’s like Redbox but for medical-grade pot.

The patient swipes their card, selects their option, walks inside and gets their single gram of “medicine” without ever having to interact with a single person.

And the City of Lathrop isn’t quite ready for it.

Despite an impassioned plea by a representative of a Tracy medical marijuana dispensary and a cooperative that operates a local deliver service, the Lathrop City Council voted 4-1 Monday night to enact a 45-day moratorium that will prevent a dispensary for opening in the community.

Councilman Omar Ornelas cast the lone dissenting vote. The item needed four votes to pass.

It’ll now be up to the city’s planners and members of the council to determine whether it’s an item that they want to review and address within that time frame, or extend for a period of up to 22 months. Based on the way that Lathrop’s municipal code is currently written, the city cannot authorize any business to operate that is in violation of any local, state or federal law.

That’s where things get murky.

Even though California voters approved Proposition 215 in 1996 – the Compassionate Use Act – and clarified the scope of the law with Senate Bill 420 in 2003, the Federal government still doesn’t recognize individual states rights when it comes to the issue, and classifies marijuana in any form as a Schedule 1 narcotic.

Mitch Abdallah, who was representing West Coast Alternatives in Tracy, said that his business already had a location picked out in the community – well out of the way – and had plans to renovate it into a state-of-the-art and secure facility where patients could get their medicine without any hassle or worry.

He talked about the unique Redbox-style distribution system that would use a card-system to verify a patient’s identity, whether they had a valid prescription or not, and how much money they had in an account before dispensing a small amount – “a gram” – of medical-grade marijuana. 

Abdallah said that he recognized that while the California Supreme Court upheld the City of Riverside’s position that allowed them to ban dispensaries in the community, the dispensary he was representing followed the guidelines that were laid out by the California Attorney General “to a T” and noted that the United States Attorney General’s office has twice stated that they won’t go after dispensaries that are operating within the reasonable boundaries of their local laws.

“I think what we’re offering here is something that the community should take note of,” Abdallah said. “It’s something positive – it’s here to help sick people – and it’s here to take drugs off the street and put them into a very safe, secure and state-of-the-art doctor’s style office and I look forward to working with the council.”

There was little discussion amongst members of the council on the item, and few hints on which direction they would go after the 45-day moratorium had lapsed.

Nobody from Lathrop Police Services offered input on the matter.

“This is a big change,” Lathrop City Councilman Steve Dresser said. “You’re coming here and you’re asking for a big change and I think that we need to take baby steps. I think that what the city is proposing here is a chance for the city to step back and look at the ramifications, the benefits, the downsides, the impacts.

“I think we need to look at that before we can – before I can – move forward with this.”

Manteca and Ripon have taken similar approaches. Two years ago the City of Manteca shut down a dispensary that had begun operating downtown, and earlier this year Ripon banned all dispensaries outright with a city ordinance.

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