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Council OKs pot dispensaries in Richmond

on September 22, 2010

The city council voted yesterday to formally regulate medical marijuana dispensaries in Richmond.

The ordinance, which passed unanimously and with little debate, will permit only three dispensaries to operate within Richmond city limits, and mandates that each must be a nonprofit corporation. Medical marijuana proponents at the meeting called the ordinance’s passage a victory for residents battling chronic pain.

During the public comment section of the meeting, half a dozen medical marijuana users thanked the council for taking up the issue and spoke about how pot has helped them cope with illness.

“For several years I was on a lot of strong narcotics and they were destroying my body,” Yolanda Aguilar, who has lupus, said. “With medical marijuana it’s a different kind of relief — it does not drain you and destroy your organs. It helps so much.”

Under the new law, patients will be allowed to purchase up to one ounce of marijuana per day. The three dispensaries will be tasked with ensuring no patient duplicates a prescription and collects too much pot.

The ordinance, which has been under discussion since summer, dictates the dispensaries be located in commercial zones, though the council discussed allowing the shops to operate in some mixed-use areas. Regardless of their location, the dispensaries must meet security specifications and are subject to health and safety inspections.

The Medical Marijuana Collectives, as they’re known in city council jargon, must also test their product regularly, to ensure that it is medical grade and does not contain contaminants.

The ordinance becomes effective 30 days after passage, but does not have to be implemented until January 21, 2011. After questioning from council member Maria Viramontes, City Attorney Randy Riddle assured the council that his office would work to speed up the process.

“Our goal is to get it done as quickly as we can, but we also want to ensure that we get it done correctly,” Riddle said.

After the vote, Melanie Rosen of Bay Point celebrated the decision as a step in the right direction. Rosen, who has arthritis and fibromyalgia, said the debate over medicinal pot has been a drag for people suffering from chronic pain.

“After I exhausted all my resources with western medication I found major relief in medical marijuana and the hype that is put on it is really unnecessary,” Rosen said.

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