OAKDALE -- City officials took the first step Monday to ban medical marijuana dispensaries, saying the businesses aren't a good fit for their community and the drug is too easily obtained by those who are not sick.
The City Council voted 3-1 to approve an ordinance that prohibits business licenses and land uses that violate state or federal law. A city staff report clearly spells out that the ordinance is aimed at marijuana.
The vote came after a public hearing in which the former owner of the now-closed Oakdale Natural Choice Collective spoke against the ban.
Addison DeMoura said city officials were subverting state law and the will of the voters who in 1996 passed Proposition 215, which allows for the medical use of marijuana for those with a doctor's recommendation.
"This is vindictive city politics," DeMoura said. He said banning such dispensaries will force those in pain to go to Oakland or Sacramento for medical marijuana or to the local black market.
Councilwoman Toni Hanson said because of her own health issues she has compassion for those who suffer but said there are other ways to relieve suffering than medical marijuana.
Hanson and other council members also talked about the importance of keeping Oakdale's small-town feel and as a safe place to raise families. They also said it was too easy to obtain a doctor's recommendation and those who are not in pain can abuse state law to obtain medical marijuana.
Hanson, Councilman Tom Dunlop and Mayor Pro Tem Katherine Morgan voted for the ban. Councilman Michael Brennan voted against it. He said it was repetitive because existing law bans medical marijuana. Mayor Farrell Jackson did not attend Monday's meeting.
Although medical marijuana is legal in California, federal law prohibits it.
DeMoura opened his medical marijuana dispensary in April 2007. Several months later, law enforcement officers raided the business and arrested DeMoura and seven other people.
In October, a Stanislaus County Superior Court judge dismissed the charges against DeMoura, his wife and employees.
DeMoura filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit July 31 against Oakdale, the county and several law enforcement officers who raided the dispensary and his house. The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of money.
Taking business elsewhere
DeMoura told the council that he has abandoned his plans to reopen a medical marijuana dispensary in Oakdale. Instead, he said, he is talking with a community in a neighboring county about opening a dispensary there.
Oakdale's ban comes as President Barack Obama's Justice Department makes a significant departure from the Bush administration's policy on enforcing federal anti-pot laws, regardless of state law.
The Justice Department announced in October that people who use marijuana for medical purposes and those who distribute it to them should not face federal prosecution as long as they conform to state law.
"It will not be a priority to use federal resources to prosecute patients with serious illnesses or their caregivers who are complying with state laws on medical marijuana, but we will not tolerate drug traffickers who hide behind claims of compliance with state law to mask activities that are clearly illegal," Attorney General Eric Holder said in an October news release.
Oakdale initiated a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries after the Oak-dale Natural Choice Collective opened. The moratorium expired last year, but the council passed an interim ordinance Dec. 7 temporarily banning dispensaries and other uses that violate state or federal law.
Monday night's ordinance is scheduled to come back to the council at its Jan. 19 meeting for its final adoption. The ordinance would take effect 30 days after that.
Modesto and four other Stanislaus County cities have banned medical marijuana sales, according to Americans for Safe Access, a pro-medical marijuana group with offices in Oakland, Southern California and Washington, D.C.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2316.