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San Ramon advances marijuana dispensary ban ordinance

Final consideration set for two weeks

San Ramon appears on its way to banning medical marijuana dispensaries after the City Council gave initial support to the prohibition ordinance Tuesday evening and scheduled final approval to occur later this month.

The proposed new local law aims to address the community's "health, safety and welfare concerns" associated with the dispensaries, according to Alicia Poon, deputy city attorney for San Ramon.

"This ordinance would ban the establishment of medical marijuana dispensaries anywhere in San Ramon," Poon told the five councilmen at City Hall. "This would apply whether the dispensary is a fixed location or is mobile."

The council voted unanimously to introduce the proposed ordinance and set the final reading and adoption for its next regular meeting, capping a 15-minute public discussion Tuesday night that featured a presentation from city staff, comments from a single citizen speaker and some skeptical remarks from one councilman.

San Ramon is one of only three cities in Contra Costa County that has not regulated or prohibited medical marijuana dispensaries, Poon noted during her presentation.

There are no storefront dispensaries in San Ramon, but with the city code currently silent on the issue, someone could open one if their zoning application were approved by the Planning Commission and City Council, according to Poon.

The proposed prohibition includes outlawing mobile marijuana-delivery locations, added to the ordinance in regards to as many as 10 such delivery services operating in the city now, she said.

The concerns the ordinance would address, according to Poon, include the demands placed upon the city's policing, legal and administrative resources and "transient visitors and obnoxious odors."

The council's public discussion focused on a potential increase in crime, particularly violent crime, that Poon said is commonly associated with marijuana dispensaries.

The sole member of the community to speak on the issue Tuesday was Patty Hoyt, supporting the proposed ban on behalf of the San Ramon Valley Alcohol Policy Coalition.

"I want to show my support to the council to adopt an ordinance to ban medical marijuana dispensaries," she told the council. "The health and safety of our communities are really important considerations."

The greatest skeptic of the presentation's claims was Councilman Phil O'Loane, who insisted that the arguments made for the ordinance were rhetorical and based on outdated research. He pointed to the 10 marijuana delivery services reportedly operating in the city and the absence of criminal activity or public outcry demanding those operations stop.

The councilman also argued that studies have shown medical marijuana has positive effects, especially to those who have experienced, or are undergoing, chemotherapy treatment.

The lone council member to speak on the issue, O'Loane concluded by explaining the process by which a dispensary could be approved -- a four-fifths vote by the commission and council. In the 20 years that medical marijuana has been legal in California, no such requests have made it to the council's chambers, he added.

"So why we feel compelled to do this as opposed to something else is kind of puzzling," O'Loane said.

At the end of the discussion, all five councilmen voted to advance the ordinance's final reading and adoption to Sept. 22. O'Loane did not elaborate on his supportive vote.

The dispensary ban would take effect 30 days after its formal approval. Violators could be charged with a misdemeanor and be subject to civil penalties enforced through the city's administrative citation policies.

In other business

* The construction projects of the new San Ramon City Hall is ahead of schedule at this time, according to City Manager Greg Rogers.

Current work includes electrical, lighting and fixture installation as well as interior painting. The only exterior work yet to be done is the parkscape which, according to Rogers, will include paved parking lots, the removal of trees and perimeter fencing.

* The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) honored summer intern Marquis Seto, a Dougherty Valley High senior. MTC staff member Darlene Amaral introduced the council to Seto, who earned the honor for his work throughout the internship as well as an interview process involving five interns.

Seto highlighted his work with the MTC, describing his role in developing and implementing programs for convenient and safe transportation, among other works completed.

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