The Danville Town Council gave initial support Tuesday to prohibiting the cultivation, processing and delivery of medical marijuana in a unanimous vote to help the town maintain regulatory control over the marijuana-related activities within the town limits.
The decision came in response to recent state legislation placing regulations on the growing and distribution of marijuana that would take effect locally unless the town adopts its own regulations by upcoming deadlines.
"I am absolutely adamant. We need to ban all of this," Councilman Newell Arnerich said at the Town Meeting Hall. "We need to get ahead of it. We can make changes later, if need be."
The proposed ban ordinance, which passed its first reading Tuesday night, is set to return for a second reading and final adoption at the next council meeting.
The nearly hour-long public discussion Tuesday featured comments from town officials and four local residents -- two on each side of the debate -- before the council weighed in on whether to establish a total ban or less-stringent regulations.
"The new (state) legislation will create a requirement for anyone cultivating to obtain a state license to do so," Danville city attorney Rob Ewing said during his opening remarks. "But the legislation also says that cities can ban all cultivation within their jurisdictional boundaries. In order to do so, that ban has to be not only be adopted, it has to go into effect by March 1."
Because the state would seize regulatory control where local rules aren't in place, Danville -- like many other California jurisdictions -- has been forced to fast-track its ordinance to avoid having all decisions on the growing and distributing of medical marijuana coming directly from the state, he said.
Ewing and council members indicated that the rules town officials create in the short-term might not necessarily be permanent for the long-term.
"If we ban (cultivation, processing and distribution) right now, we could later have a less-restrictive rule, should we desire to do so. But the reverse would not be possible, because of the March 1 (state deadline)," Mayor Karen Stepper said.
In support of the proposed ban, town staff cited concerns such as the chance for marijuana-induced fires at grow or processing sites and the public nuisance created by odor from marijuana plants. The conversation Tuesday night focused predominantly on issues associated with medical marijuana delivery.
Patty Hoyt, speaking on behalf of the San Ramon Valley Alcohol Policy Coalition, told the council she was worried that allowing marijuana cultivation and delivery would further the drug's use among Danville youth.
"Marijuana is, by far, the most common illegal drug used by teens," she said in support of the prohibition ordinance. "What contributes to marijuana use for teens (is) the availability of the drug, the social norms surrounding the drug's use and the perceived harmfulness of the drug."
But banning medical marijuana delivery would be unfair to some Danville residents qualified to receive marijuana as part of their treatment, according to Ryan Thornberry, who said he previously managed a marijuana delivery service along the Interstate 680 corridor.
"I personally can vouch that we delivered to many patients that are bed-ridden, going through severe chemotherapy, have back injuries and all sorts of different restrictions that do not allow them to get to the nearest dispensary, which is in Berkeley," Thornberry told council members.
He said his service utilized safeguards similar to pharmacies, such as using bills of sale, requiring verification of doctor's recommendations for patients and carrying only small portions of the drug in sealed containers. He also argued that many patients prefer types of marijuana with less of a high and little or no negative side effects, rather than psychoactive forms of the drug to which many stigmas are attached.
Another citizen speaker, Richard Gentry, said he supported the proposed ban because of the nuisance marijuana cultivation brought to the town because of odor from growhouses.
Resident Spencer Corbett told the council he questioned whether odor was reason enough to necessitate a total ban.
"Out of fear of odor and youth access, we're going to be taking away medicine from people who need it," Corbett said. "I know many other people in this town that rely on (marijuana to treat) depression, cancer, mental illness and other debilitating things."
When the discussion turned back to the council, Councilman Robert Storer expressed concern for town residents who rely on medical marijuana for their well-being but aren't able to go out and acquire it themselves.
Storer said he backed the Danville Planning Commission's proposal to ban marijuana cultivation and processing but allow limited delivery services for severely ill residents. But seeing he did not have the support on the dais to pass such a motion, Storer said he was happy to support his fellow council members in prohibiting delivery too.
The proposed ordinance is set to return for final approval Jan. 26. Violators would be deemed a public nuisance and could face civil penalties through the town's code enforcement rules, but the ordinance does not contemplate criminal charges.