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Chula Vista councilmember Steve Castaneda was late getting to the July 21 city council meeting. The second-term councilmember showed up just in time to join his three colleagues as they considered placing a 45-day hold on medical marijuana dispensaries from opening within city limits.

During the hearing, more than a dozen residents discussed the benefits and detriments that medical marijuana collectives would bring to the City of Chula Vista. When it came time for city councilmembers to comment on the issue, Castaneda was first to speak, apologizing to the audience and the council for his tardiness.

“I had a meeting in Oakland. When I got off the BART train, I walked into an area called Oaksterdam,” explained Castaneda about the area north of downtown Oakland where marijuana laws are lax and where numerous medical marijuana dispensaries and cafés operate. Castaneda’s meeting was with an Oakland official who shared the ups and downs of having the dispensaries in her district.

“The voters spoke…in 1996,” said Castaneda, referring to Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act that allows citizens to possess and grow marijuana for medicinal purposes. “But, we have a role and we have a responsibility to safeguard the community as a whole, that we ensure that any business, irrespective of what kind of product or service they provide…that they operate in a manner and a form that does not create public safety issues.

“This is not to deny the people of Chula Vista the access of safe and legal medical marijuana or from entrepreneurs to do what they are legally entitled to do with respect to operating a business,” added Castaneda, “but this is about how we safeguard the community as a whole and how we regulate the business that may come to the city.”

First-term councilmember Pamela Bensoussan: “I want to make it clear that if we adopt [the 45-day] moratorium, it is not a ban. And there are several members on this council who are interested in understanding how we can have such a dispensary while having regulation and oversight.”

Mayor Cheryl Cox, wife of County Supervisor Greg Cox -- a supporter of the county’s suit to overturn the use of medical marijuana -- was the only person on the council who appeared steadfast in her opposition to allowing medical marijuana dispensaries. “It is a misnomer to indicate that the voters of Chula Vista supported this in 1996; they did not,” said Cox, citing election results in 1996 that showed that the majority of Chula Vista voters opposed legalizing medical marijuana. “The State of California has some really interesting takes on things.... Marijuana is, by federal standards, illegal.”

After Mayor Cox spoke, the council voted unanimously to impose a moratorium that prohibits new medical marijuana dispensaries from opening for 45 days. And although Chula Vista has joined the cities of Oceanside, Escondido, and National City in imposing temporary bans on selling medical marijuana, the majority of the council appeared open to allowing them, though under strict guidelines.

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AB390 July 23, 2009 @ 7:02 a.m.

Marijuana should be legal not only for medical patients but for adults who choose it as a healthier alternative to alcohol. Americans should not be arrested for making healthier choices about their own bodies.

No matter how many people we arrest, it's still easier for high school students to buy pot than beer. Keeping marijuana illegal does not benefit our children. It benefits special interest groups: the alcoholic beverage industry, the prison industry, police departments and their suppliers, government bureaucrats, and drug cartels.

Tell your legislators in Sacramento to legalize marijuana. Visit yes390.org

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