Staring down a room full of angry medical marijuana advocates and shrugging lawsuit threats, the Redding City Council voted unanimously Tuesday evening to ban cannabis collectives by Dec. 1.
Redding is perhaps the first city in California to impose such a ban following a state appellate court decision in October striking down a medical marijuana permitting system in Long Beach. Sacramento has temporarily frozen new medical marijuana permits but not moved against existing collectives.
The discussion was often heated between medical marijuana supporters saying collectives give patients safe access to their medicine and speakers saying storefront collectives contributed to higher drug use and crime.
Cannabis supporters often hissed and heckled opponents, sometimes drawing rebukes from Mayor Missy McArthur.
At least 10 police officers stood around the packed chamber, and at one point escorted John Prinz of Cottonwood from the chamber as he finished addressing the council.
Prinz, who was speaking with animation, had brandished some screws police thought he could use as a weapon. Officers grabbed him by the arms and walked him from the room while some audience members cat called. “What about free speech,” several said.
Even while banning storefront collectives, the city will still allow groups up to 10 to cooperatively grow and distribute medical marijuana under Prop. 215, which state voters passed in 1996.
City Attorney Rick Duvernay said the ban will likely spark lawsuits against the city. But the threat of lawsuits is not as severe as federal prosecutors going after public officials for allowing collectives to continue in violation of federal law, Duvernay said, drawing scorn from many in the audience.
Redding will likely need the ban until state and federal government finally decide the status of medical marijuana, Duvernay said.
Council members said they must follow the law, and the Long Beach decision changed state law.
“For me this is like children of divorce,” Mayor McArthur said just before the vote. “The feds are the father, the state is the mother and we are caught in the middle. Unfortunately for collectives, the father has the rule of the land.”
Jeanette Ernst, CEO of Nature’s Nexus, one of the 16 storefront collectives in town, said she was discouraged by the council’s decision, but motivated to protect the rights of her patients.
“There are many ways they can restrict medical marijuana with zoning ordinance and health and safety codes without permitting or licensing us,” Ernst said. “There are so many patients that are going to be affected by this decision. There are so many patients who will not be able to find a collective under 10 people where they can safely get their medicine. Tinctures, edibles and topicals aren’t available on street corners. The average medical marijuana user could not make them at home.”
Ernst also said the city will almost certainly face lawsuits.
“I will guarantee the city will spend more money in legal fees fighting this than they ever would making sure police are patrolling this city,” Ernst said.
Before the meeting started, around 100 medical marijuana supporters raucously demonstrated outside council chambers.
Protesters chanted “What do we want? Safe access! When do we want it? Now!”, and, “Save our co-ops! Save our ‘scrips!”
They carried signs reading: “Marijuana: safer than peanuts,” “All-natural medicine from God’s green earth,” and “I am not a criminal, stop treating me like one.”
Several waved American flags, while others hoisted flags displaying stripes and marijuana leaves.
Gina Speer, 20, of Redding, said the protest was about “safe access.”
“If I were smoking, I know my mom and dad would rather have me buy from a club rather than on the streets,” she said.
Her husband, Chris Speer, said he uses medical cannabis to manage his bipolar disorder without side effects.
“I don’t want to see my taking a positive plan of action for my illness criminalized,” he said. “Every medicine I’ve been on has deadly side effects.
The group was lining the sidewalk, but a news team from KRCR Channel 7 asked them to move toward the council chambers for a television shot.
The Long Beach decision means Redding no longer has power to regulate the 16 medical marijuana collectives and cooperatives, City Attorney Duvernay told the council.
City officials have made it clear they don’t want unregulated collectives in town, he said.
Redding at one time had 30 or more collectives, Duvernay told the council. The permitting system whittled that number down to the present 16, he said.
In fact, no one knows how many collectives operated in Redding during fall 2009, before the city imposed its permitting system. Some 20 organizations applied and the city granted 19 permits, meaning three have gone out of business.
Redding police in 2010 conducted periodic stings to see if the collectives would sell to non-members, and none did.
The city will declare storefront collectives public nuisances and move to shut them down under code enforcement if they do not stop operating on their own in the next two weeks.
The 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled in October that efforts by officials in Long Beach to dictate which collectives can operate and which cannot go far beyond Prop. 215.
State law merely creates a defense from criminal prosecution for people using medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation, the court ruled.
Prop. 215 provides a defense for caregivers providing medical marijuana to patients — a husband or wife caring for a sick spouse, for example. SB 420 and other laws allow several people to cooperatively grow medical marijuana and provide it to those who cannot produce it themselves.
Federal law, which considers all marijuana illegal, pre-empts any local efforts to regulate production and distribution of the substance, the court ruled.
Duvernay also drew on a recent 4th District Appellate Court upholding a city of Riverside ban on collectives despite Prop. 215 and the state Medical Marijuana Program of 2003 to justify Redding’s ban.
Prop. 215 and other medical marijuana laws do not provide people with inalienable rights to establish, operate or use dispensaries, the court ruled. And state law does not prevent cities from banning medical marijuana outright.
Medical marijuana supporter Timothy J. Duffy (right) leads a chant outside Redding City Hall before a meeting of the Redding City Council on Tuesday evening as a crowd of medical marijuana supporters gathered in support of collectives within the city limits. “I’m out here for real freedom,” Duffy said. The council voted unanimously Tuesday to ban pot collectives by Dec. 1.