Old - DO NOT USE - The Coast News Rancho Santa Fe

Oceanside planning commission approves zoning for medical marijuana dispensaries

OCEANSIDE — The Planning Commission recommended a land use zoning amendment to allow medical marijuana dispensaries on May 5.

The commission recommended the zoning change in a 3-2 vote, with Commission Chair Robert Neal and Commissioner Robert Ross casting the two no votes.

Fellow commissioners spoke in favor of the zoning change that would provide medical marijuana patients a safe place to fill a doctor’s prescription.

Following the meeting Commissioner Louise Ravera Balma said after listening to speakers for and against the zoning change, the need for patients to have access to prescribed medical marijuana outweighed the city’s opposition.

Balma said the city’s claim of an increase in crime only cited one robbery at a medical marijuana dispensary and that was for cash, not for the drug.

She added statements from patients who use medical marijuana were very moving.

She said patients who spoke about the benefits of medical marijuana explained they take the prescribed drug in a pill form or cream and do not get high from it, but get medical relief.

“The medical use for MS, AIDS and cancer is huge,” Balma said. “Those who testified and spoke were A-1 people. They were all very highly educated people.”

The request for the zoning change was initiated by George Sadler, director of Nature’s Leaf Collective, a mutual nonprofit benefit corporation.

The nonprofit medical marijuana dispensary has been operating on Vista Way for about a year. City litigation is pending to close the dispensary.

In the meantime Sadler is stepping forward to advocate patients’ rights to obtain prescribed medical marijuana, and asking for a city zoning change that will allow collectives to operate.

Sadler said the yes vote is a sign of the times.

“Things are changing, it’s not illegal in the state,” Sadler said. “We need safe access where patients can get it without going to the street or back alley where people are being robbed. We’re criminalizing patients.”

Sadler said more than15,000 Oceanside patients have a prescription for medical marijuana.

The drug was approved for medical use in California in 1996 and patient access through nonprofit dispensaries in 2003.

The zoning change provides safety for patients and the community by restricting the location and advertising of dispensaries. Sadler said the city could also limit the allowable number of dispensaries.

Sadler said unjust stigmas associated with medical marijuana use are beginning to be dismissed.

“To see what we deal with on a daily basis swayed it (the commission’s vote), physical people sitting in front of them,” Sadler said. “It wasn’t the stoners everyone assumes is doing this. It’s time patients have access to this medicine.

“Safe access is the most important part,” Sadler added.

During the meeting over 30 speakers addressed the commission.

Richard Greenbauer, city senior planner, said 60 percent of the speakers supported the zoning change.

Speakers included individuals with breast cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder, and emphysema who use the medical marijuana with successful health results.

Greenbauer did not have comments on specific reasons city staff opposed zoning for medical marijuana dispensaries, but said staff will bring the commission’s action to city council and continue to recommend against a zoning change.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

The official decision to make the zoning change will be voted on by city council at a date yet to be determined.