In January 2004, California enacted a state law allowing patients to use marijuana for medical reasons with a doctor's prescription. Since then, cities across the state have been scrambling to restrict or even ban medical marijuana dispensaries, or "cannabis clubs" from locating inside their boundaries. Two cities located within a puff of the California Legislature in Sacramento, Rancho Cordova and Rocklin, typify these efforts.
"There is no such thing as medical marijuana," Rancho Cordova Councilman David Sander told the Sacramento Bee. "I cannot support marijuana distribution in this community."
Sander opposes passage of a proposed ordinance that would allow, but regulate cannabis clubs by restricting them to industrially zoned areas at least 1,000 feet from homes, schools, parks and churches, and allowing no more than two such business anywhere in the city limits at any one time. The ordinance would also restrict patients from buying more than 8 ounces of pot and forbid the smoking or growing of marijuana on the premises.
Since the medicinal marijuana law took effect, police departments in several smaller California cities have reported problems of illegal marijuana dealing taking place near cannabis clubs.
"We don't condone the use of marijuana, but we want to control the adverse impacts of medical marijuana dispensaries," Rancho Cordova Police Chief George Anderson said in the Sacramento Bee. "The most difficult thing from a law enforcement perspective would be to have no regulation."
In nearby Rocklin, city leaders went a step beyond regulation, passing an ordinance temporarily banning cannabis clubs completely, an act certain to be challenged in court.
The Rocklin Planning Commission likes the idea and has voted to recommend that the ban be made permanent.
Rocklin's Police Chief Mark Siemens told the planning commissioners that even tough regulations had failed to prevent cannabis shop-related problems from developing in other cities.
"I checked with (nearby) Roseville today, and there are street-level dealers trying to sell to people going to the dispensary there," Siemens said.
"This is not about the compassionate use of marijuana. It is about the distribution of marijuana and the use of Rocklin land to do so."
Among larger California cities, Oakland, currently home to at least a dozen cannabis clubs, adopted an ordinance in February allowing the city to regulate the facilities and limited their number to a maximum of four.
Nine states, including California, allow individuals to grow or possess marijuana as long as a doctor attests that it is used to treat a defined medical condition.
Advocates for patients who legally use prescribed marijuana to ease pain related to numerous ailments from glaucoma to cancer argue that cities should work to regulate, rather than ban, medical marijuana dispensaries altogether.
Quoted in the Sacramento Bee, Ryan Landers, state director of American Alliance for Medical Cannabis said, "You need to be aware that some things have been exaggerated to scare you. This has worked in other communities."
"We should be supporting citizens during the worst times of their lives," said Landers. "That's what community is about. That is what family is about."
Note: California's law legalizing medical marijuana clubs came about as result of the passage in 1996 of a ballot initiative -- Proposition 215, the California medical marijuana initiative. Prop. 215 removed criminal penalties for personal use possession and cultivation of medical marijuana by patients (and designated caregivers) who have a physician's recommendation.