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Council votes to ban medical marijuana

ESCONDIDO — A spirited discussion surrounding one of the most controversial issues facing local governments took center stage on Wednesday.

After a lengthy process, the City Council voted unanimously to ban all medical marijuana services, facilities and cultivation. Although the vote ended 5-0, councilwoman Olga Diaz was the lone member expressing a desire to continue the debate to find a solution to residents who use the drug for medical purposes.

“I will support this, but I want to follow up,” she said. “We allow alcohol and prescription drugs because of the legal structure. It doesn’t seem fair to put someone through the black market.”

Bill Martin, deputy planning director, said the city must “expressly prohibit or regulate cannabis cultivation” by March 1 as the state becomes the sole licensing authority.

It was the push from the state, which forced the council’s hand. Diaz, though, said the city could adopt its own licensing program, as it used to be, to regulate dispensaries and cultivators.

However, Mayor Sam Abed and councilmen John Masson, Ed Gallo and Michael Morasco all took the position of prohibiting such action. Abed said the number one priority for the council is the health and safety of its residents, and to prevent exposure to children.

He also quoted a media story about the activity in Oceanside where 45 robberies have been reported, plus a 19-year-old who was shot and paralyzed.

“We have to go after the illegal sale of marijuana,” Abed added.

Gallo said he believed marijuana to be a gateway drug, although he spoke with a physician who said cannabis does provide relief to some patients.

The four, meanwhile, all agreed that allowing cultivation in residential areas, such as backyards, would put too much pressure on law enforcement.

Morasco, who is in the medical field, said a “high percentage” of his patients admit to abusing the drug. Diaz countered by saying there are numerous individuals who abuse prescription drugs.

Masson, though, said he was concerned about the issue, but wondered what impacts it will have if it’s not controlled.

Meanwhile, only one resident, Renee Myers, spoke about the issues. She is opposed to the ban, saying her use for medicinal purposes eases anxiety, insomnia and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Myers, 60, railed against prescription drugs and their addictive tendencies, while marijuana, she said, is not addictive.

In addition, she spoke of the numerous side effects of prescription medication and highlighted suicidal tendencies or thoughts with some drugs.

Although the council was moved by her situation, the council opted to put the ban in place.

The Escondido planning commission, meanwhile, voted 5-0 on Dec. 8, 2015, prohibiting commercial medical marijuana activities and cultivation.

Other San Diego County cities prohibiting dispensaries include Vista, San Marcos, Imperial Beach, National City and Chula Vista.

Vista, though, has not addressed mobile dispensaries, otherwise known as marijuana delivery services, while Chula Vista is currently working to develop regulations against deliveries from San Diego and any other county permitted location.

The city adopted an ordinance on Aug. 19, 2009, outlawing any person or entity to own, operate or participate in any manner related to medical marijuana dispensaries.

Currently there is one dispensary in the outside of city limits on the Valley Center/Escondido border at 8530 Nelson Way.