Steve Avalos has been trying to bring a medical marijuana dispensary to Atwater for a while now.
Avalos, himself a medical marijuana patient, was close to opening the business — he even leased a building at 221 Airpark Road.
“As patients we shouldn’t have to seek our medicine illegally because it is California law,” he said. “There’s no reason for us to break the law to buy the drugs on the street.”
However, Avalos, might have to wait a little longer, Yesenia Amaro reports in the Merced Sun-Star.
On Monday night, the Atwater City Council unanimously voted to pass an urgency ordinance establishing a temporary moratorium on the establishment and operation of medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.
Jose Sanchez, deputy city attorney for Atwater, said the moratorium adopted by the council allows it to look into the issue and study possible amendments, if any, that are needed to regulate such businesses.
“It gives the city time to study what they want to do in order to protect the public health and safety of its residents,” Sanchez said. “At this point, no decision was made as to permanently ban them or not.”
The moratorium is for 45 days, and the council will have to revisit the issue before then to extend the moratorium or halt it. Sanchez said that, under the law, the council is able to extend the moratorium twice. The extensions would have to be made during a public hearing, Sanchez said.
If the council decides to extend it after 45 days, it can do so for up to an additional 10 months and 15 days, Sanchez said. When that time period is up, the council will have the option to extend the moratorium again for one year before a permanent ordinance is adopted.
“It allows time to look at the pros and cons and what proper regulations exist or can be drafted,” he said. “The council will ultimately make a decision on whether to allow them with certain regulations or not allow them at all.”
Sanchez said this marks the first step for the city to study the issue.
Atwater Councilman Jeff Rivero said it’s good to have the time because there are a lot of legal questions involved.
“We wanted to make sure that we take our time, and have our legal team with us to make sure that we don’t make bad mistakes,” he said.
Justin Hendrix, senior planner for Atwater, said he was first approached by Avalos two weeks ago about the establishment of a medical marijuana dispensary. Hendrix said he discussed the issue with Atwater Police Chief Richard Hawthorne, who then called the moratorium.
Hawthorne said his department, the Planning Department and the city attorney will research the issue and then make a recommendation to the council. He said other cities that condone the operation of dispensaries have seen secondary impacts, such as people smoking marijuana in public, people being arrested for being under the influence of marijuana, reselling of marijuana, loitering and vandalism, among others.
For example, he said there have been instances in Fresno where people have tried to steal marijuana from the dispensaries.
Avalos lives in Sonora but grew up in the Atwater area.
He said if the council ultimately approves a permanent ordinance to allow the operation of dispensaries, his business would operate as required by state law. Marijuana would be dispensed only to those patients with a medical marijuana card and wouldn’t be open to the public, Avalos said.
“Right now we are not open for business, we are waiting for the city to approve everything,” he said. “We are on a lease, we are there, and we are going to hope for the best, and hopefully open up.”
The city of Livingston recently went through the same process, and Mariposa County last month extended its urgency ordinance for an additional year.
Alvaro Arias, associate planner for Mariposa County, said the county hasn’t made a final decision on the dispensaries. “It can still go both ways right now until the permanent (ordinance) is adopted,” he said.
That could happen in the next couple of months, he said.