Colma welcomes cards — but could quash cannabis

While blackjack players can double down on an 11 at the local card room, medical marijuana sales in this 1,300-person hamlet could go the way of a man who cheats at cards — banned.

The Town Council will hold a public hearing tonight on a proposed ordinance to prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries from doing business in town because of the legal gray area surrounding them and the alleged secondary impacts of having them in a community.

“We’re a pretty small city, and with the cemeteries, the town tries to be respectful of what goes on around the cemeteries,” City Manager Diane McGrath said.

The ordinance would not ban state-licensed clinics or health care facilities that prescribe the drug, and would not eliminate patients’ and caretakers’ rights to grow and possess medicinal marijuana for their own medical use, according to staff reports.

However, it would ban anybody authorized to grow and possess marijuana from selling it to others, said City Attorney Roger Peters. Currently there are no pot clubs in the town, though some inquiries were made a couple of years ago by potential operators.

Colma police Chief Bob Lotti said research showed secondary effects of having a dispensary included on-site usage, drug dealing and robberies.

“The community impacts are negatives on the community, and they draw from the community resources,” Lotti said.

When asked about Lucky Chances Casino and any secondary impacts caused by the environment surrounding gambling, Lotti said the town’s big-box retailers generated many more calls for service than the casino.

The secondary effects of a dispensary are “overblown,” said Dale Gieringer, the state coordinator for National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, a nonprofit working to legalize marijuana.

“Certainly [there is] less impact than a casino,” Gieringer said. “I think this is the kind of thing we’d expect from a staid community like Colma.”

Currently in San Mateo County, only SouthSan Francisco has regulations against dispensaries, after the passage of a 2006 ordinance that sets a maximum number of patients served by caretakers who can grow their own marijuana.

In establishing a maximum number, that ordinance attempts to ensure direct relationships between the caretaker and patient and create the compassionate environment envisioned with the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, which allowed the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

A “collective” — which has a direct relationship between the caretaker and a qualified patient — can only be established in certain parts of South City and requires a conditional use permit.

There are no dispensaries or permitted collectives in South San Francisco, but there are at least two in San Mateo. While banned by federal law, a dispensary’s role in implementing state law is unclear, according to Colma staff reports.

dsmith@examiner.com

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