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SLO city says no to medical pot clinics — for now 

A few minutes before 11 p.m. on Tuesday, San Luis Obispo’s City Council voted 3-2 to bar medical marijuana clinics from opening in the city, pending a Supreme Court case that would decide whether California’s medical marijuana laws are legal.

In the interim, city staff members will look into the zoning, safety, and legal issues the city will need to address before allowing those dispensaries to open.

The long evening kicked off with a joint report from police chief Deborah Linden and city attorney Jonathan Lowell. Together, they walked the Council through California’s history with medical marijuana.

In 1996, voters passed Proposition 215, which allows doctors to recommend, not prescribe, marijuana. The law also protects people with that recommendation from criminal prosecution.

Since parts of that original law were unclear, in 2003 the state’s Senate passed SB 420 — a bill that provided specific information as to what medical marijuana patients and their doctors and caregivers were allowed to do.

Despite those clarifications, medical marijuana dispensaries are still a contentious issue. Linden cited a report put together by the city of Davis that chronicled crime and safety issues some California cities have faced after clinics have opened.

Those concerns were first on Linden and Lowell’s presentation but they had other worries that they felt the city council needed to address before allowing dispensaries to open: the unresolved discrepancy between the state and the federal laws; the lack of state attorney general guidelines for clinics; and the city’s own zoning regulations.

The chief of police and city attorney recommended the city wait until the Supreme Court ruled until the council allowed clinics.

And then it was the public’s turn to talk. And talk. And talk.

For over an hour, proponent after proponent stood up to voice their opinion for medical marijuana. Only a few people spoke against it.

Many speeches were passionate and personal — individuals who described firsthand how medical marijuana had eased suffering and prolonged life. But few of them addressed the specifics of a dispensary ordinance and the inherent legal issues that surrounded it.

And most seemed unaware that they were preaching to an already converted choir.

When it came time for the City Council’s comments, it was clear that, excluding Vice Mayor Ken Schwartz, every member was a proponent of medical marijuana.

Christine Mulholland was ready to allow dispensaries that night.

“When I’m told to wait for what the feds want to do, I’m a little fed up with that. I’ve been waiting 12 years,� she said. “Now is the time to take the lead and write up a good ordinance with good regulations.�

After a long discussion, John Ewan and Schwartz argued instead that the city should follow their attorney’s recommendation and wait for the Supreme Court. The two men proposed that untill then, the city’s staff should look into the regulations the city would need to have in place before it allowed clinics to open.

Councilman Allen Settle and Mayor Dave Romero agreed with Ewan and Schwartz but argued, sometimes very emotionally, that that planning was a waste of time and taxpayer money until the Supreme Court’s decision was known.

“If you do it backwards, you set yourself up with real complications,� Settle said.

In the end, Mulholland decided to compromise and voted for Ewan and Schwartz’s let’s-plan-ahead motion. The final vote was 3-2.

As John Ewan put it, “I don’t want to wait around. I think it’s time to move forward. [And] when the courts have their decision, we’ll be rollin’.�

“Maybe I shouldn’t use that word,� he said, laughing along with the audience. ³

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