By Allison Jarrell

On Dec. 22, the San Juan Capistrano Planning Commission held a public hearing and voted to recommend that the City Council prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries, manufacturers, cultivation and delivery within the city. The commission vote was 4-1, with Commissioner Thomas Nelson dissenting and Commissioner Mark Speros absent.

The topic came before the commission in response to the recently adopted Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act. The state’s new law, which took effect Jan. 1, maintains local control to regulate or ban medical marijuana cultivation, transportation and distribution. The state’s deadline for cities to ban or regulate medical cannabis is March 1, 2016. Currently, San Juan Capistrano’s municipal code doesn’t contain any regulations on marijuana.

During the discussion, City Attorney HongDao Nguyen informed the commission that cities such as Los Angeles and Santa Ana still allow and regulate medical marijuana, so options to obtain medical marijuana in the area do exist. San Juan residents with a medical card will still be able to possess and use medical marijuana in their homes.

Nguyen’s report noted that “a quick search of identifies several cannabis dispensaries that currently operate in San Juan Capistrano” via mobile delivery. When asked how the city would attempt to regulate those services, Nguyen replied with options ranging from cease and desist letters and citations to “full-blown litigation” and filing criminal or civil complaints to obtain injunctions.

Commissioner Nelson said he couldn’t “disagree more” with the proposed ban, adding that the commission “can’t be in the business of standing in the way of something that is helping people.”

Commissioner Lennie DeCaro countered that the commission isn’t “depriving anyone of that ability.”

“We’re just saying, we don’t need it in this town because it adds another layer of bureaucracy that we’re now in control of,” DeCaro said. “And I don’t think our city is well equipped to handle that.”

“I would completely disagree with that,” Nelson replied.

During public comment, Steve Behmerwohld, a resident of San Juan for 25 years, said the ban would negatively impact his 91-year-old father who has been using medical marijuana for years for his pain.

“It’s a lifesaver for my dad,” Behmerwohld said. “I very seldom go past Crown Valley, and I sure don’t relish going to a marijuana dispensary in Santa Ana to get my dad’s medicine. It seems to me that you’re fixing a problem that doesn’t exist.”

The city of San Clemente recently approved a ban on medical marijuana commercial outlets, testing facilities and delivery services, and the Dana Point City Council also voted to adopt an ordinance banning the sale of marijuana by dispensaries, along with its cultivation in and delivery to the city.

The proposed ban will come before the San Juan Capistrano City Council for approval at a future meeting.

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