Medical cannabis users here will have to continue to travel out of town and spend their money in other cities’ dispensaries after a vote by the City Council this week.
The council enacted an outright ban of medical marijuana cultivation and sales in town with a 4-0 vote. Councilwoman Elizabeth Stonegrove was absent.
Despite more than a 15 impassioned pleas for easy access to medical cannabis from local users, the council upheld the city’s status quo – no dispensaries, no deliveries and no cultivation.
Many cities in the region have enacted bans, as the deadline to retain local control over regulations is looming. This week also saw ordinances from Merced and Livingston, which, like Los Banos, must have an ordinance in place by March 1 or live with a state law.
April Gibson, 40, of Los Banos said she’s been prescribed medical cannabis to ease the pain that comes with the degenerative arthritis in her spine. “You’re denying people their medicine,” she told the council.
She begged for compassion from the council, her voice cracking with emotion. She said the cannabis is safe and not addicting like the pills the doctor could also prescribe. A marijuana delivery service will be her only option in the near future.
“One day, I’ll be in a wheelchair,” she said. “I won’t be able to jump in my car and get my medicine.”
Still other advocates argued the city stands to make tax dollars off of regulated sales. It’s unclear how much cities that tax medical marijuana are set to make, but this week California’s legislative analyst and finance director estimated that legalizing marijuana for recreational use could net as much as $1 billion in new tax revenue for the state and local governments.
Luke Diller of Los Banos argued that cultivation and sales will continue in town, so the city might as well get something out of it. “All you have to do is let people do what they are already doing,” the 28-year-old said. “Give these people permits and accept the money you’ll be paid.”
At the same meeting, the council gave the Walmart on Pacheco Boulevard permission to give out samples of alcohol for “educational purposes,” an irony more than one advocate pointed out.
Police Chief Gary Brizzee and Merced County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Framstad both spoke out in support of the ban, arguing that marijuana cultivation and dispensaries are known to attract criminal activity.
Los Banos police busted up 27 illegal indoor operations in 2014. Indoor operations are considered fire hazards because they typically steal electricity and often have exposed wiring.
Brizzee and Framstad also said firearms are often found at grow sites. Brizzee listed six people killed in Merced County at cultivation sites or during some other activity related to marijuana in 2014.
Advocates pushed back at that argument, saying the state is working to regulate the industry and make it safe and profitable.
The members of the council gave no arguments or consolation to the medical cannabis patients before enacting the ban.
Los Banos resident Jaime Flores, a veterinarian who works in San Jose, said the state is trying to allow people to use medical cannabis legally and to regulate it, so the city should get on board. “It seems to me that what we’re doing is going backward,” he said. “Who’s losing here?”
The Sacramento Bee contributed to this story.