The South San Francisco City Council voted to prohibit medical marijuana collectives at its meeting Wednesday night, reversing years of incremental steps toward authorizing a dispensary.
Until recently, the majority of council members supported adding regulations to the municipal code to permit and regulate a medical marijuana collective. But in the last month, council members were faced with a sudden outpouring of public opposition. They also where students obtained marijuana from people with medical marijuana cards.
“This was a game changer for me, sort of realizing that we as a local government don’t have the ability to control this process well enough,” Mayor Kevin Mullin told Patch.
At the meeting, police Chief Michael Massoni described an incident in April where a security officer found five students smoking marijuana that had been obtained by an 18-year-old student who had gotten a medical marijuana card on his 18th birthday.
In another incident, Massoni said, a student sold marijuana provided to him by his 20-year-old brother, who had a medical marijuana card.
“I recall hearing…at one of our earlier meetings…that drug use at our schools and medical marijuana could be linked, and I was contending that we were looking at two separate issues,” Mullin said. “Well in this case, that gap has been bridged.”
The council approved regulations for marijuana collectives in 2006, and in 2009 the Planning Commission approved an Oakland-based medical marijuana collective, Island of Health. But the city revoked the permit and enacted a moratorium on marijuana dispensaries until after the vote on Proposition 19, which would have legalized marijuana statewide.
In January, most council members still supported going forward with authorizing a dispensary but . At Wednesday’s meeting, council members had a choice between approving the new process or prohibiting the dispensaries.
Public sentiment leaned strongly against medical marijuana collectives.
A crowd of school employees protested in front of the Municipal Services Building before the meeting, holding up signs to passing cars that read, “School Employees say ‘No’ to a Pot Club! Protect Our Students!” The protestors later stood in the back of the meeting room and held up their signs throughout the meeting.
And the overwhelming majority of the dozen local residents who made public comments were strongly against approving a dispensary.
“This school year alone, I have had over 71 suspensions for drug use, and 18 of those suspensions have resulted in expulsion for drug sales,” said Cindy Petrovitz, an administrative assistant at who works on discipline issues. “It appears to be too easy for people to obtain a 215 [medical marijuana] card. All you need to do is find a medical professional, tell them you have trouble sleeping, your back hurts, or any other excuse, pay them $100 and you walk out with a 215 card.”
“It breaks my heart to see our students being taken out of our office in handcuffs knowing they are facing an unfortunate future,” Petrovitz said, choking up.
“I’m a student at Skyline College who has worked very hard to free myself from a marijuana addiction,” said Luis Rubalcaba, who recounted how he once ended up in jail after injuring his mother while high. “When I was younger, I bought marijuana from someone with a medical marijuana card.”
But students have been able to get marijuana in high school for years without medical marijuana cards, argued Joel Garcia, a South San Francisco resident and medical marijuana user.
“I am warmed by seeing so much of the community coming out here to speak about this, but I am concerned by the vast amount of misinformation that is coming out,” Garcia said.
School board members Liza Normandy and Shirley Hoch spoke out against the dispensary.
“I’m not saying medical marijuana isn’t needed by some, but it certainly isn’t needed by an 18-year-old who says, ‘I have a headache, I have a backache,’” Hoch said. “Don’t give our students the idea that marijuana is an okay drug.”
Jolene Malfatti, president of California School Employees Association’s South San Francisco chapter, organized the community protest against the measure. She said she started researching the issue and distributed fliers about a month ago.
“Every single person I contacted had no knowledge this was happening in our city,” Malfatti said.
Applause broke out after the council took its vote: Mullin, Vice Mayor Richard Garbarino and Council member Pedro Gonzalez voted to prohibit dispensaries; Council member Karyl Matsumoto and Council member Mark Addiego voted against the measure.
“I think this community needs to wake up. We have alcohol problems, cigarettes, prescription abuse,” said Matsumoto. “Whether or not we have the collective, this problem [marijuana] is going to grow. I am truly sorry because we have heard in the past people legitimately who needed medicinal marijuana. We have veterans who come back and have stress disorders; this helps them forget what they saw in wars.”
Garbarino shared research he’d done with the audience that questioned the efficacy of medical marijuana.
“All of these facts and statistics aside, for me tonight the deciding factor was hearing from you,” Garbarino said. “I’ve heard that this community doesn’t want this. And you know what, I’m going to listen to you.”