After several long discussions by Bishop City Council members and a very long discussion by the Planning and Zoning Commission session last December which lasted four hours on proposed limits to growing medical marijuana within Bishop City limits, the Council decided on Monday night not to go forward with the Medical Marijuana Grow Ordinance.
What was interesting was the turnaround from the position taken by Council members in the beginning that they had to have something on the books before a March 1 deadline by the State, because they didn’t want the state telling them what to do. It seemed to dawn on Council members, as the proposed first reading of the ordinance was being discussed, just how little they know about the subject. Council member Karen Schwartz also pointed out that there is no evidence that medical marijuana grow was a criminal or public safety problem for the City. And it is legal under current State law.
Council’s lack of knowledge became clear as a local grower Craig Clark began asking questions based on his experience on square footage requirements, proposed wattage restrictions, concern over the ordinance referencing “previous drug convictions,” and how the permit application would play out for people who are already legally growing medical marijuana under current state law.
Council members were clearly flummoxed and became increasing concerned … and bravely began to acknowledge how little they really knew about the subject.
Alena Wagner, President of the Pals Collective, a medical marijuana delivery service, spoke to Council members and offered herself and her husband as resources to help clarify the ordinance. The Collective serves more than 200 patients. Because it operates outside the City limit, the ordinance would not affect it, but Wagner wanted to speak for collective clients and others who, for reasons of confidentiality or fear of reprisal from employers or law enforcement, would not speak publicly before the Council. The fear that the ordinance might make it harder for patients to have access to medical marijuana was noted by both Wagner and by several members on the Council.
Three Council members, Karen Schwartz, Jim Ellis, and Mayor Laura Smith, were clearly troubled by the ordinance. Mayor Pro Tem Joe Pecsi continued to express concern over “federal law” and the “city charter,” staying with his hardline “no marijuana grow”position. Councilwoman Pat Gardner seemed to be willing to make a motion to move the ordinance forward to a second reading with changes, but in the end bowed to the majority to table the idea entirely. Pecsi agreed to this as well, although for different reasons than those of the others.
Fire Chief Ray Sequine told Council members that electrical fires were the cause of most of the fires that the Fire Department responded to in December. The proposed ordinance allowing only indoor growth, requiring high-powered lamps, might become a concern.
Councilmember Karen Schwartz admitted that “We’re not experts, and we don’t know if our actions may have unintended consequences. I don’t want to create a can of worms on something we know nothing about.” Later, she said that “This feels rushed. I don’t want house fires and crime, but I don’t want to make patient access difficult either.”
The Council members were reminded that the Inyo County Board of Supervisors was advised the Legislature would pass “clean-up” bills which very likely would remove the March 1 State deadline, so they opted for the wait-and-see approach.
In the end, lifting his hands up in surrender, Pecsi said “Let the State do it.”