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Lathrop just says no to medical pot dispensaries
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LATHROP – Barber poles let people know where they can get a trim.

Red crosses on a building or a blue sign with a white H? That means that you’re either at or nearing a hospital.

So how about the green cross? Well, in Lathrop it really doesn’t mean anything since the City Council decided on Monday on a 4-0 vote to outlaw medical marijuana collectives, cooperatives and dispensaries that have appropriated the symbol as an identifier after California allowed “compassionate use” with the passing of Proposition 215 in 1996.

Vice Mayor Omar Ornelas wasn’t in the room when the votes were cast. 

The issue and how the city chooses to deal with it has been several years in the making. That included round-table discussion with dispensary owners intended to give elected officials a better understanding of the legal process and California’s environment since making it legal for medical purposes almost two decades ago.

But marijuana is still classified at a Schedule 1 narcotic by the Drug Enforcement Agency. That places it in the same class as cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and LSD. At the same time Lathrop’s municipal code contains a section that outlaws businesses that aren’t compliant with the guidelines at all of the applicable levels of government.

Earlier this year the city opted to place a moratorium on the dispensary issue. That halted the permitting process of any proposed medical marijuana outlet through the end of November until the council got a chance to review current zoning regulations and make a decision on whether adding an exclusionary segment to the municipal code would be the prudent way to proceed.

A second marijuana bill was approved by the California Senate and signed by the governor in 2003 that effectively created the identification card system utilized by dispensaries today. The issue has been largely untouched since then until an effort began in 2010 to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Since then both Washington and Colorado have followed suit, and experts believe it’s only a matter of time before the Golden State ends up on the list.

Until then, however, patients – marijuana can be prescribed to treat everything from glaucoma and anxiety to chronic pain and can help stimulate the appetite in those suffering from cancer and AIDS – will have to try their luck in a neighboring community or one of the massive facilities in the Bay Area (there’s one in Oakland that doubles as a university to provide cannabis training in a variety of areas).

And in a detailed, line-by-line report, the City of Lathrop is very clear about where it feels that the Compassionate Use Act has either been misinterpreted or fallen short of its intended goals – two things that weigh heavily in the decision to allow a business predicated on that model to locate within the community.

“The Compassionate Use Act is limited in scope, in that it only provides a defense from criminal prosecution for possession and cultivation of marijuana to qualified patients and their primary caregivers,” the report states. “The scope of the Medical Marijuana program is also limited in that it establishes a statewide identification program and affords qualified patients, persons with identification cards, and their caregivers, an affirmative defense to certain enumerated criminal sanctions would otherwise apply to transporting, processing, administering or distributing marijuana.

“The passage of the Compassionate Use Act and the Medical Marijuana Program appear not to have facilitated its stated goals. Instead, the predominant use of marijuana has been for recreational and non-medicinal purposes. As stated in the report issued by the California Chief’s Association on September 2009 entitled ‘California Police Chief’s Association Position Paper on the Decriminalization of Marijuana’ it has become clear despite the claims of use by critically ill people that only about 2 percent of those using crude marijuana for medicine are critically ill. The vast majority of those using crude marijuana as medicine are young and are using the substance to be under the influence of THC and have no medical condition.”

Because of the legal steps required, the council opted to place a moratorium on the matter while it worked its way through the proper channels. The matter, because it has to deal with zoning restrictions, was sent back down to the Planning Commission where the public forum was opened for input, and it was then brought back for final decision. 

The ordinance will need to be reread and approved at a future meeting before it can go into effect.