Imperial Beach resident Sharon Marlo attended Wednesday night’s public hearing to voice her opinion on whether or not the City Council should enact two ordinances that would effectively ban medical marijuana dispensaries when the city’s moratorium expires in August.
Her husband and friend accompanied her for moral support. When it was her turn, she walked to the podium wearing a light-colored hat to cover her bald head.
“I was diagnosed with breast cancer in December of 2010,” Marlo said. “One of my anti-nausea medications was $275 for three pills. I am grateful that we have dispensaries, and grateful to be a medical marijuana patient. Without access to this medication, I would not have made it through my chemo therapy and my continuing treatment.”
She heard claps from several of the roughly 25 community members who attended the meeting, but despite her testimony, and that of other patients in the crowd, the council voted four-to-one in favor of banning medical marijuana facilities.
City Attorney Jennifer Lyon drafted two ordinances that ban medical marijuana dispensaries based on zoning and business regulations, and also limit the number of patients and qualified caregivers that can collectively gather in Imperial Beach to cultivate or distribute marijuana for medical purposes as allowed under state law.
The council received more than 500 pages of supporting documentation that included the Compassionate Use Act, Senate Bill 420, state and federal regulations, information on the secondary adverse effects of marijuana, and 258 letters from residents of Imperial Beach in support of medical cannabis.
In the end, those who voted in favor of the ban cited concerns of abuse, safety, an increase in crime and noted that even if they wanted to allow it, Imperial Beach’s size and small commercial zone simply did not have the space to accommodate medical marijuana facilities.
“For every legitimate patient there seems to a dozen or so who are getting (marijuana) that don’t need it,” Councilman Ed Spriggs said.
“We have been trying to clean up the city. We are trying to create a family beach environment, and (patients) who live in Imperial Beach do not have to go that far to obtain their medicine. When we evolve to a point in time where only those who have a medical need are the only ones who have access, we can look at the issue a different way.”
Councilwoman Lorie Bragg agreed with Spriggs, citing her own concerns and expressing her belief that marijuana is a gateway drug, using as an example her brother, who used marijuana and became a heroin addict.
“Do we want this around our schools, our churches, and our neighborhood? I think the majority of our residents would say no,” Bragg said.
Picking up a copy of The San Diego Reader she said, “This is very enlightening, for $25 you can get a renewal from any doctor, to me that is scary. It is absolutely frightening.”
Like Bragg, Councilman Jim King said he voted for Proposition 215, but that the potential for abuse reached unprecedented levels.
“I fully appreciate the needs of people who have real medical needs, but it is a fact that there is widespread abuse among teenagers,” King said.
“I am aware of a lot of kids with recommendations who do not have problems. We don’t want to eliminate opportunity for people who need it to get marijuana, but marijuana is a weed that doesn’t require a lot of attention to grow. Plus, there’s the ongoing costs that our city would be hard pressed to deal with. People say you can tax it, but no one knows what those costs are because the issue is new.”
Silent throughout most of the public comments and discussion, Councilmember Brian Bilbray was the sole vote against the ordinances.
“Like the adult bookstore battle in the ’80s, I believe this is going to be a losing battle. I think the responsible thing to do is to at least accommodate one,” Bilbray said.
“We are all in agreement that it is an undesirable (substance), but the county did not want it and they still zoned for it. We should do the same thing. As long as it’s legal under state law and the federal government is not stepping in, we need to go with the state law.”
In 1996, California, San Diego County and Imperial Beach voters approved the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
Prop 215For Percentage Against Percentage Imperial Beach 3,278 56.7 2504 43.3 San Diego County 446,107 52.1 409,515 47.9
Source: San Diego County Registrar of Voters
Of the 13 people who addressed the council, eight were residents of Imperial Beach, and seven spoke in favor of a ban, although half of those who spoke against the ordinances and de-facto ban had time ceded from other supporters of medicinal marijuana.
“The law to provide access to medical marijuana is a classic case of good legislation gone badly,” Ron Moody said. “The doctors who write prescriptions are interested in profiting from individuals whose only goal is to get high. Look at the websites, the products. All the jargon is for the marijuana counter culture. It is all a sham. The only interest of those come here and want them is to get high.”
Fellow Imperial Beach residents and patients like Tracy Rivera and Ed Soros stated that as patients, they need access. “I kill my house plants, how am I supposed to cultivate marijuana?” Rivera asked the council.
“It’s scary to get up here and tell you that I am a medical marijuana user, because of the discrimination as a whole that marijuana has. How many people do you know whose lives have been ruined from pharmaceuticals and alcohol? Thousands. How many have people died from marijuana? There is not one documented case. I beg you to do what is right. Please follow the money, and do not side with big pharma.”
Carol Green, a mother of three teenagers from Chula Vista said, “When the perception of harm goes down, the use of drugs goes up. As we legalize and have dispensaries on our streets, the teenagers think it is all fun, and that is my problem.”
Lt. Marco Garmo of the Imperial Beach Sheriff Station agreed with statements that there is widespread abuse of medicinal marijuana laws and voiced the sheriff’s support for a ban.
“I have intelligence from a local high school in IB that there are juveniles who are able to obtain a card, purchase marijuana and sell it at school,” Garmo said, adding that he had no concrete evidence, simply the word of concerned parents and residents.
“The only thing I have heard are zoning issues, and I don’t know if that’s a reason to limit marijuana,” Paul Romero said. “I see bars everywhere. We have a porn shop on Palm (Avenue), why single out medical marijuana? There is no evidence that it will increase crime, in fact if you limit the areas they can get their legal marijuana, you are going to increase crime because they will turn to other sources."
“I just think the policy, with all due respect, is short-sighted and the city can use the tax revenue base from medical marijuana facilities. I see no draw back from allowing them to operate,” he said.
“A lot of dispensaries have been robbed. I know that stats show there is no impact on crime, but there are statistics that show an increase in property and violent crime,” Garmo added.
“It is a business that has potential to increase crime. As your law enforcement agency, we have to look at the manpower we have to provide, and whether or not we are able to maintain the quality of life for other residents.”
King probed further, asking if a monetary costs analysis of regulation was available, to which Garmo said, “We have a pretty detailed cost breakdown that is extensive. It has figures from the crime prevention division, and it’s a good sizable packet on potential cost for enforcing the law.”
When asked by Patch for a copy of the analysis, Garmo stated it was not public record.
However, City Manager Gary Brown stated in an interview Monday that sheriff and Code Enforcement estimates put the cost at around $100,000.
The only disagreement over the ordinances from City Councilmembers in favor of the ban was over a section that prohibits two people from gathering to cultivate or distribute marijuana for medical purposes.
When Mayor Jim Janney asked, “Are we talking about two people getting together in their home to use it?” Lyons responded, “Essentially yes, they can use it in their homes, just not in large groups.”
The mayor and Bragg took issue with this, and after approximately 15 minutes, the council decided to amend the number from two individuals to no more than four.
“Our country was built on competition, and we cannot allow, like Brian suggested, just one dispensary to open,” Janney said.
“We are a bedroom community, with a very small commercial zone, and we simply cannot accommodate a dispensary, especially considering the city’s budget. We will struggle to provide basic services over the next couple of years, and we have bigger fish to fry in this town than to worry about how we are going to regulate a business.”
Following procedure and modifications, the council will vote for a final approval of the ordinances at their July 6 meeting.