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By Henrietta J. Burroughs
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Posted on Friday, May 27, 2011  
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On a 3-1 vote, the East Palo Alto City Council adopted a motion to ban the use of land in East Palo Alto for the use and sale of medical marijuana. The vote was a major one for both the council and the city as a whole, and it begins to bring a very contentious and divisive debate within the city to a close.

The council’s vote to prohibit the use of land in the city for the use and sale of medical marijuana was at least 8 months in the making. Even the city’s mayor, Carlos Romero, acknowledged that the decision came after three city hearings and many hours of consideration by the council and the city staff.

While the vote on the motion came in response to the city staff’s request for the council to provide it with direction on the land use issue, some could see the council’s decision as a definitive response to the Peninsula Care Giver Collective and Wellness (PCGC) organization’s request to open a medical marijuana dispensary within the city.

For months, the council reviewed its General Plan and zoning codes to determine whether the city was zoned for the establishment of such a facility. It was pointed out in one of the council’s special hearings that the city’s current zoning ordinance does not allow for a medical marijuana facility to operate within the city. Now, with the passage of the motion, the council is requesting that the city staff develop a new ordinance to amend the current zoning code to explicitly prohibit the use of land within the city for the use and sale of medical marijuana.

During a community forum prior to the council’s vote, several city residents  expressed their frustration over the months of review the council had given to the issue.

One resident, Lorraine Holmes, told the council that she was going to start a petition to get signatures to file a class action lawsuit against the city. “This marijuana thing has been going on since October,” she said. “Most of the resident don’t want it. The council has to speak for the people.”

Another resident, Luella Parker, told the council, “Too much time has gone by. You need to take a stand on this. You keep putting us off. You ‘re trying to wear us out. You need to take a stand or let it go.”

Drew Health Foundation’s Executive Director, Myrtle Walker, who formerly served as an East Palo Alto city council member and as the city’s mayor told the council, "We have spent years trying to clean this city up. This is about money. Just look at the ex-prisoners coming into this city. The two don’t mix. You have no control over that stuff when it gets into the house. You can figure out other ways of getting money.”

In responding to Walker, Council member Ruben Abrica said that the city council is not considering medical marijuana as a way for the city to make money. “That’s just an issue going around,” he said.

Finally, after listening to the residents and the city’s interim attorney Valerie Armento, Romero said, “ The time has come to deliberate.”

In the end, Council members Carlos Romero, Laura Martinez and Ruben Abrica voted to adopt the motion while Council member Evans voted no on the motion

Evans said that his vote was not in favor of the sale of marijuana within the city, but it was a vote to show his disagreement with the decision to vote on the land use issue first. Evans argued that the motion before the council was not an appropriate one, since he felt that the council should first vote on the permit application that PCGC filed with the city to establish a marijuana dispensary in East Palo Alto.

Evans said, “I’m personally not against medical marijuana, but the people don’t want it and I represent the people. I’m voting against it.”

Council member David Woods was not present at the meeting.

The Peninsula Care Giver Collective and Wellness (PCGC) organization is scheduled to appear before the East Palo City Council at a special hearing which will be held on Thursday, June 2 in the East Palo Alto City Hall, which is located at 2415 University Avenue in East Palo Alto.

To contact the author of this article, email Henrietta J. Burroughs at epatoday@epatoday.org.

Read related articles by clicking on the titles below:

East Palo Alto's proposed medical marijuana dispensary is attracting more controversy

Combating substance abuse in East Palo Alto

East Palo Alto City Council members face a tough decision

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