South Lake Tahoe council to consider ban on recreational marijuana businesses |

South Lake Tahoe council to consider ban on recreational marijuana businesses

People line up to be among the first in Nevada to legally purchase medical marijuana at the Silver State Relief dispensary in Sparks, Nevada.

With California’s passage of the marijuana-legalization ballot question in November, South Lake Tahoe’s newly configured City Council does not appear to be wasting much time in addressing the issue.

Several councilors instructed staff on Tuesday to prepare a ban on recreational marijuana businesses for council’s first meeting in January. The decision — pushed by Councilor Tom Davis and seconded by Mayor Pro Tem Wendy David — came at the end of a marathon meeting during which council heard a presentation from Police Chief Brian Uhler and several local medical professionals.

The presentation, condemned as one-sided and propaganda by some in the audience, touched on adverse health effects and societal determinants of marijuana, which is now legal for adult recreational use in eight states and the District of Columbia, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Medical marijuana use is permitted in a total of 28 states and the District of Columbia, along with the U.S. territories of Guam and Puerto Rico.

Just above 57 percent of California voters elected to legalize recreational marijuana by casting votes in favor of Proposition 64. In the more conservative El Dorado County the measure failed by less than 1 percentage point, with 47,047 people voting yes and 47,170 voting no.

Although Proposition 64 allows adults 21 years and older to legally grow, possess and use marijuana for recreational purposes, individual jurisdictions can decide for themselves whether or not to allow recreational marijuana businesses within their boundaries.

Uhler, in noting the option for local control, said that council should not rush into an area that he said contained many unknown variables.

Citing a potential threat to South Lake Tahoe’s reputation as a “family friendly” tourist destination, the chief recommended council ban all commercial recreation facilities, including laboratories for testing, cultivation facilities and stores.

“Allow the experiment of marijuana to play out elsewhere in California,” Uhler said.

Although the medical officials who presented were less direct than the chief, they stated concerns about limited resources and the impact on existing services.

If South Lake Tahoe moves forward with allowing recreational marijuana businesses, it will have to decide to what degree it increases educational efforts warning of the dangers of marijuana, particularly for children, said Dr. Rhonda Sneeringer, chief medical officer at Barton Health. That will be especially important early on as there will likely be lag time before the state helps with the educational effort, she added.

As it relates to emergency serves, one can look to Colorado for an idea of the impact, said Dr. Lance Orr, emergency department director at Barton Health. Orr pointed to a medical journal entry that stated emergency room visits and calls to poison control have roughly doubled in Colorado since voters there legalized marijuana in 2012.

Beyond that, others including those with the South Tahoe Drug Free Coalition voiced concerns that allowing the businesses would further send a message to the area’s children that marijuana is a harmless drug. For those reasons, Kelsey Magoon, project coordinator with the South Tahoe Drug Free Coalition, asked council to take a firm stance against the harmful effects of recreational marijuana.

The presentation did not sit well with many in the audience, who felt the presentation was one-sided and amounted to fear mongering.

“That was the most incredibly biased, one-sided, completely unfair and unbalanced discussion put together I’ve ever heard … and with a lot of propaganda and no real expert that’s credible to speak on the subject whatsoever,” Cody Bass, founder and executive director of Tahoe Wellness Cooperative, said after the presentation to council.

Bass’ remarks came before council unanimously voted against an appeal that would have allowed Tahoe Wellness Cooperative, the South Shore’s only medical marijuana dispensary, to keep its doors open.

Mayor Austin Sass noted that some in attendance would likely have that perception, and added that he expected more discussion in the coming months.

“There are two sides to every coin and if I were sitting in the audience I might be under the perception that this presentation presented one side of that coin. I would anticipate that going forward council will have further discussion because this law does go into effect in Jan. 1 of 2018,” Sass said prior to Councilor Davis’ request to put a marijuana business ban on the next agenda in January.

Bass and others said they anticipate being vocal going forward.

“I’m going to work hand-in-hand with the city but it’s unbelievable to me that they put that whole thing together … ” he said.

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