Medical Pot Debate Heats Up In Tracy


420 Staff
An illegal drug, a helpful medicine or just a nuisance - the issue of where or even should medical marijuana dispensaries exist has fallen squarely into the laps of area city leaders in recent years.

Though county prosecutors deem any marijuana use illegal, perhaps nowhere in San Joaquin County is the issue burning as hot as it is in Tracy, where one pot-selling business is fighting a city order to shut down.

Local medical marijuana users, some with end-stage ailments that they say make traveling painful, decry the potential loss of the Valley Wellness Center Collective at 130 W. 11th St.

The club's attorney argues the business has a constitutional right to stay open says the city has a place in its municipal code allowing the club to sell its buds, marijuana-laced edibles and tinctures.

City officials, however, maintain the club, the second to open this year, is not allowed because the city's zoning laws do not specifically set out rules for the retail sale of marijuana. It's a zoning grey area; a way a city can keep out an undesired business without having to come out publicly and ban it.

But an arbiter's ruling, expected any time, on whether the club violates those zoning laws could push city leaders to take a public stand on marijuana clubs in Tracy.

"I think at some point in time we're going to realize we have to deal with it in some type of policy manner. I don't think we have yet," said Mayor Brent Ives, who added that he does not want marijuana dispensaries in Tracy.

Freshman City Councilman Steve Abercrombie, a retired Hayward police officer, finds himself in a difficult position in the medical marijuana debate: While he backs allowing patients access to drugs that ease their pain, he's also preaches the ills of drug abuse to fifth-graders as the Drug Abuse Resistance Education officer in Tracy schools.

"It's a real Catch-22. If you come out against it, then people think you're inhumane and trying to punish people who have cancer and use it to ease their suffering," Abercrombie said. "If you don't come out against it, then people think you are trying to legalize drugs. It's not an easy decision, but it's something we really need to discuss."

If Tracy officials are forced into the debate, they won't have to look far to find cities with similar issues.

The cities of Dublin, Pleasanton and Livermore have either banned dispensaries or placed moratoriums on their operation. The tiny town of Ripon, however, has set up a permitting system for the businesses.

Lodi does not have any measures expressly addressing medical marijuana from a zoning perspective or otherwise, City Attorney Steve Schwabauer sad. The only thing preventing a club from opening is the potential for prosecution from the San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office, according to Schwabauer.

"The DA's position is that you don't need ( an ordinance ). It's illegal under federal law, and federal trumps state law," Schwabauer said.

Stockton does not list medical marijuana dispensaries as an authorized use in its development code, which effectively outlaws them, according to city spokeswoman Connie Cochran. That's similar to the way Tracy's code addresses pot clubs, and Stockton city leaders could find themselves in the same situation as their counterparts in Tracy if a club were to open up.

After extending moratoriums on dispensaries in 2005, the Dublin City Council unanimously approved an ordinance banning them in June 2006.

"The council felt there were adequate facilities in close proximity to our community," Dublin City Manager Richard Ambrose said.

Dispensaries in Hayward are about 15 miles from Dublin, and unincorporated areas around Dublin are home to other clubs.

Livermore followed suit, enacting a two-year moratorium in 2005, giving city leaders time to grapple with a way to handle medical marijuana dispensaries under the city code while addressing the disparity between federal and state laws on medical marijuana use. State law allows patients access to medical marijuana, yet federal law outlaws all use of marijuana, medical or otherwise.

"On top of that, we're concerned for the potential of secondary effects of having a dispensary located in a neighborhood," Livermore City Attorney John Pomidor said.

The moratorium ends in September. However, a proposed ban on dispensaries has been subjected to several public hearings, and the Livermore City Council likely will take up discussion on a ban within the next two months, Pomidor said.

Closer to home, Manteca officials are also working on a ban, Police Chief Charlie Halford said.

Ripon's ordinance, passed in 2005, requires dispensary operators to submit to background checks, and regulates where they can operate. Dispensaries, which must be nonprofit facilities, can have on hand no more than 8 ounces of marijuana and maintain no more than 12 plants.

The city has no dispensaries yet, "which is perfectly fine with me," Ripon Police Chief Richard Bull said.

Ripon also has an ordinance regulating private gardens of medical marijuana.

In Tracy, the Valley Wellness Center Collective is prepared for a long fight. The club's attorney, James Anthony, is willing to take the matter to Superior Court if his appeal fails.

Meanwhile, the club is installing a carbon air filtration system to minimize the odor from its stock of marijuana, which has drawn complaints from neighboring businesses. The club has also affixed its logos - which bear a caduceus, the symbol of the medical profession - to its wicker-covered front windows.

Even Anthony believes it may be time for Tracy to formally address what to do with marijuana dispensaries.

"If they're concerned about it, they should bring it up for public hearing," Anthony said.

Source: Record, The (Stockton, CA)
Copyright: 2007 The Record
Website: Local & World News, Sports & Entertainment in Stockton, CA
I've been to the VWCC. They are in an area with little traffic. I couldn't find it once I got to the building and went in and asked one of the businesses where it was.

We got into a discussion about the club, and he said he could smell it and that was why they wanted it shut down. I couldn't smell it at all. The place was very professional and very discreet.

If there are clubs in unincorporated area of Dublin and LIvermore, I would love to know where they are. That area is only a few miles from my home, and just a few miles from Hayward.

Tracy is the only club around for miles, since they are forcing so many to close. Closing this one would make a very long drive from the central valley. Dublin and Livermore have their heads up their butts. Where are those clubs nearby in unincorporated area in the vicinity? I would bet none of these councilmembers has never had someone close to them suffer, and know that marijuana may help them. People are so hung up about MMJ, to the point of ridiculousness.

I also have not heard about another club in Tracy, I would like to know where it is, so I can make a visit.

They let the clubs operate, knowing the business that are giving a license to. Why let them open, only to shut them down. The VWCC is an small club, and very professional. So why let them open in the first place.

I hope they fight them tooth and nail on this.
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