Mercury News editorial: San Jose medical pot sequel: Don’t ban clubs

San Jose has spent a year and a half trying to figure out how to regulate medical marijuana, including getting 78 percent of voters to pass a tax on the outlets last fall. Just a week ago, council members were deadlocked on how many clubs to allow and how to choose which ones can remain. Then suddenly, at the end of last week, an apparently serious proposal to ban clubs landed with a thud for Tuesday’s council meeting and began gaining support.

What are these guys smoking?

There’s no way the council can responsibly vote Tuesday to close all the outlets. If council members are unmoved by the victims of debilitating disease who now rely on voter-approved medical marijuana, then at least they should be influenced by the little matter of sunshine: Bans have been discussed from time to time, but the arguments causing this recent, dramatic shift have not been fully aired at City Council meetings. The consensus had appeared to be that some clubs would remain and be regulated; only the number was in doubt.

While more notice legally may not be required to vote on a ban, switching direction so abruptly would stomp on the spirit of the city’s Sunshine Law like a boot grinding a smoke into the gravel.

It’s clear that safety concerns are growing, with police layoffs imminent, and that the backgrounds of operators of many of the 100-plus clubs in the city today are pretty fuzzy. But the wild proliferation of these clubs is the council’s
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own fault. When Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio first proposed regulation 18 months ago, there were only a couple operating in the city. Decisive action then could have kept things under control.

Today some of the marijuana is said to be coming from the deadly drug cartels. But if regulated medical marijuana outlets are off the table, then all the marijuana here will come from the cartels. And anybody who thinks marijuana was hard for high school kids or adults to find before the clubs opened must have moved here from another planet.

Given the choice between an arbitrary limit of 10 clubs and a head-in-the-sand total ban, we’d take the 10 clubs. Regulating the source of the marijuana should help keep the cartels at bay. And regulation could help limit club clientele to people who have at least some medical rationale for using marijuana. Today the screening at most clubs is flimsy at best. It’s clear that many clients are there for recreational use.

A few months ago, downtown Councilman Sam Liccardo argued on these pages that the federal government ought to be dealing with this problem, and that marijuana should be dispensed from pharmacies. It’s so true. Whatever the dangers of marijuana for recreational use, it’s a piker compared with some drugs dispensed legally by prescription. Morphine comes to mind.

But that shift to national legitimacy has to begin at the grass-roots level; it won’t originate in Congress. It has begun with states like California, whose voters approved medical marijuana in 1996. Cities like San Jose should keep faith with those voters — or publicly explain why they can’t.

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