With Peninsula cities having almost uniformly passed ordinances prohibiting so-called medical-marijuana dispensaries, Palo Alto has been targeted by medical-marijuana advocates and libertarians as a place where a liberal electorate might be persuaded to overturn that ban.
An initiative petition signed by almost 5,000 registered voters forced the City Council earlier this year to choose between adopting the measure as presented or putting it on the ballot in the November election.
To no one's surprise, the council opted to let the voters decide, and on Monday it voted unanimously to officially oppose the measure.
The signature-gathering effort itself was highly controversial, with many complaints about aggressive solicitors and deceptive descriptions of the measure.
If passed, up to three dispensaries would be entitled to operate in Palo Alto, as long as they pay a $10,000 permit fee and a city tax of 4 percent of all gross receipts. Hours of operation would be limited to between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m., and they could not be located in residential neighborhoods or near schools, parks or day care centers. Proponents characterize the measure as a way for terminally ill Palo Alto residents to conveniently obtain marijuana for pain relief and for the city to raise revenue.
When California voters passed Prop. 215, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, they made legal the limited cultivation and physician-recommended use of marijuana and opened the door to a proliferation of retail dispensaries.
Many cities, including Palo Alto and its neighboring communities, moved quickly to adopt prohibitions on dispensaries. Others, including San Jose and most other large cities, adopted regulations and rules that permitted dispensaries and have been dealing with problems ever since.
In San Jose, dispensaries have become places attracting loitering, disorderly conduct and drug use. City officials there are now trying to figure out how to close them down. In spite of Prop. 215's requirement of a physician recommendation to purchase medicinal marijuana, in practice most dispensaries are not asking for legitimate documentation and almost anyone can purchase it.
The last thing Palo Alto or any other city needs are such problems, and we therefore urge voters to defeat Measure C.
In opposing Measure C, Palo Alto council members cited a variety of reasons, including legal uncertainties, fear of attracting buyers from throughout the Peninsula, belief that dispensaries are a subterfuge that have little or nothing to do with medical treatment, and the disruptive atmosphere in the vicinity of the dispensaries.
Another big part of the problem is the confused legal situation surrounding marijuana use in California. Penalties for personal possession of small amounts of marijuana by adults have been reduced to infraction status, and passage of the Compassionate Use Act made it legal under state law to grow and use small amounts of marijuana for medical use. But we don't think many voters envisioned that allowing limited legal cultivation would lead to the problems created by the establishment of dispensaries and the need and desire of local jurisdictions to impose regulations.
Since federal law contradicts California law and continues to make all of this a crime, the latest concern of cities is that anything short of prohibiting dispensaries could leave them vulnerable to federal legal action. Several Palo Alto council members warned that issuing permits to dispensaries could be viewed as aiding and abetting an illegal activity by federal authorities.
On the other hand, City Attorney Molly Stump also cited several cases before the state Supreme Court on the question of whether cities have the right to impose any regulations due to the fact the Compassionate Use Act created legal rights to cultivate and dispense marijuana for medical purposes.
But one Long Beach case the Supreme Court opted not to review ruled that a Long Beach ordinance similar to the one proposed in Measure C violated federal law.
The negative impacts of dispensaries in cities where they are allowed are reason enough to defeat Measure C. The continuing legal uncertainties and the fact the courts have not yet clearly established the authority of cities to allow, regulate or prevent dispensaries are all the more reason why this ballot measure should fail.