BRAWLEY – The Brawley city council held a joint workshop at the Lions Center Wednesday with the planning commission regarding medical marijuana dispensaries, cultivation, mobile delivery services, and research centers within the City of Brawley.
The workshop provided a forum for the public to address the city council and the planning commission on the topic.
The Lions Center was chosen as a location to allow for an anticipated large crowd to be facilitated. About a dozen people showed up for the workshop.
The purpose of the workshop was to gather information to draft an ordinance that would retain local control of local land use for marijuana dispensaries and cultivation.
Recent legislation adopted by the state specifies that if a city does not have a dispensary and cultivation ordinance in place and fails to adopt such an ordinance by March 1, 2016, the State of California will be responsible for creating the permit process.
Federal and California laws prohibit the use, possession, cultivation, transportation, and furnishing of marijuana. However, California statutes have eliminated state law obstacles for qualified patients to obtain and use medical marijuana for legitimate medical purposes.
Cities may choose to ban medical marijuana dispensaries within city limits or they may also allow these facilities to operate within the city.
Currently, Brawley does not allow medical marijuana dispensaries with the city. It has been determined by city staff that the current ordinance is not sufficient and that a new ordinance is required to preserve local authority to prohibit or regulate such activities.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, Angel Fernandez pushed for the medical marijuana dispensaries and cited the potential revenue for the city.
“People are still going to get their medicine,” said Fernandez. “There are a lot of delivery services doing business right now in Brawley. What is the city getting from that now? The city could be getting revenue from the sale and distribution of marijuana. Law enforcement is wasting their time chasing around patients and their distributors.”
City attorney Bill Smerdon weighed in on the subject.
“There is no authority to ban compassionate use of marijuana in this state or the city,” said Smerdon. “The issues are if you want to allow dispensaries or cultivation of marijuana in the city.”
Local resident Brooks Hamby said, “I think it’s a very simple issue. It does violate federal law. We need to keep the ban in place. Studies have shown that only three percent of medical marijuana is actually used for chronic conditions. The rest is recreational use. We would do irreparable harm to the city and its residents to proliferate marijuana.”
City manager Rosanna Bayon Moore pointed out that cities that have opted to allow the dispensaries have experienced problems such as criminal activity at and around these locations.
Mayor Donnie Wharton polled the council and the planning commission to see where they stood on the issue of marijuana dispensaries. The results were split evenly.
For the city council, Mayor Wharton and councilmember Sam Couchman were for prohibition. Councilmembers Helen Noriega and Norma Kastner-Jauregui were in favor of allowing the dispensaries. Councilmember George Nava was not present because of a death in the family.
For the Planning Commission, chairman Darren Smith, commissioners Gene Bumbera and Kevan Hutchinson were for prohibition. Commissioners Robert Palacio, George Marquez and Jay Goyal were in favor of allowing the dispensaries.
Most councilmembers and commissioners agreed that the medicinal use of marijuana is valid. Those that wanted a prohibition of the dispensaries were wary of the high percentage of recreational users.
“I believe that the medical marijuana should be dispensed by licensed pharmacists,” said councilmember Couchman.
Mayor Wharton suggested that all the information that can be gathered should be and then evaluated to make the best decision possible for the city, given the compressed time frame before the March 1 deadline.
“I am not opposed to the validity of the medicinal marijuana,” said Wharton. “I have reservations with other aspects such as the Federal laws against it, the general recreational users, the black market that surrounds the dispensaries, accountability, and the morality of the use of it.”
“The next step is a hearing in front of the planning commission,” said Smerdon. “Staff will prepare two approaches for that hearing.”