2016-02-26 / Front Page

Medical marijuana ban inches forward in split vote

Ordinance prohibits personal cultivation
By Melissa Simon

Tensions were high during Monday’s City Council meeting, as dozens of medical marijuana advocates spoke out against a proposed ban on the dispensing, delivery and cultivation of the plant within city limits.

But despite the speakers’ pleas, the council ultimately voted 3-2, with Steve Sojka and Mike Judge dissenting, to introduce a local ordinance that not only bans commercial deliveries and cultivation, but also prohibits personal grows by patients with a prescription from a doctor.

The ordinance, which is scheduled for a second reading and final approval March 14, does not prevent qualified patients from using medical marijuana but does prohibit them from cultivating the plant at home for personal use.

“The cultivation issue is a tricky issue, because the question is how do you separate recreational users from the users who have medical needs?” Mayor Bob Huber said during the meeting. “I believe Simi Valley is a family-oriented community and we’ve worked really hard to become leaders in the United States against drugs.

“For us to just allow cultivation in backyards, I believe, would be counter to that.”

The city’s proposed ban was originally introduced Jan. 11 in response to California’s Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, which went into effect Jan. 1 and regulates the commercial cultivation, manufacture, sale, transportation, distribution and testing of medical marijuana.

Under the state law, cities initially had until March 1 to pass their own local regulations to avoid defaulting to more permissive state rules. But earlier this month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 21, repealing that deadline indefinitely. The newly formed State Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation will not begin licensing commercial pot grows until 2018.

City officials originally supported personal cultivation when the first version of the ordinance was introduced last month. But the council reversed course Jan. 25 and joined Thousand Oaks, Camarillo and most other Ventura County cities in prohibiting personal grows.

Public opposition

Before the council voted Monday, about two dozen people spoke out during public comments against the proposed ban. In total, at least 60 people submitted comment cards in opposition. No one spoke in support.

“If you pass this ordinance, you’re only going to increase crime because marijuana-related crime right now is extremely low, almost nonexistent,” said John Choe, a local business owner. “Patients should be able to grow their own medicine because not everyone can afford to go get or buy these medicines.”

Robert Tom said he began using cannabis after getting hit by a forklift at work and doesn’t see it as a “gateway drug,” like some marijuana opponents assert.

“(Medical marijuana) was a solution to the endless regimen of painkillers that made me sleep most of the day and didn’t allow me to live a normal life,” he told the council.

Tom Maupin, another speaker, questioned why the council felt they could “overturn” state law permitting qualified patients to grow a small amount of medical marijuana for personal use.

The state’s Compassionate Use Act of 1996 permits those with a doctor-prescribed medical marijuana card to cultivate six mature or 12 immature plants in their homes and have 8 ounces of dried marijuana in their possession.

“It’s insane what you guys are trying to do,” Maupin said, directing his comments to the council. “I understand that California has to get it together because the last 20 years have been like the Wild West with no one knowing what the laws are, but this is the wrong way. People are allowed to grow their own marijuana.”

Jonathan Beck called the ban “unjust, unfair, arrogant, ignorant, cruel and insensitive.”

“You folks are dealing with people’s lives. . . . This is insane for you to take this attitude,” Beck told the council. “I’m imploring you to not pass this (ban). You should be ashamed of yourselves for even bringing it up.”

Split decision

The council was divided when it came to voting on the matter.

“I think the federal government has done you a terrible disservice because they’ve made this confusion . . . with a law they don’t enforce,” Councilmember Keith Mashburn told the audience before voting in support of the ban. “My concern is if we roll out the red carpet, we become known as a city that accepts this is a place to grow your pot.

“I truly believe in the medical value (of marijuana, but) . . . I can’t see how we’re saying we’re going to fight heroin but allow marijuana.”

Councilmember Steve Sojka said he’s gone back and forth on the issue because there are good arguments on both sides.

“I truly believe I don’t want to take away the rights of lawabiding patients that currently legally provide medications for their illnesses (with personal cultivation), ” Sojka said.

Councilmember Mike Judge apologized to those in attendance that the council “forced” people to share how medical marijuana has helped them or someone they know.

“ Your medical problems shouldn’t be our business,” he said. “The fact you want to grow six plants because the state says you can shouldn’t be our business either. I do support the personal cultivation.”

If finalized March 14, the city’s new ordinance will continue allowing qualified patients to get medical marijuana from dispensaries outside the city.

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