PITTSBURG -- Planning commissioners have approved a recommendation to ban medical marijuana dispensaries from opening within city limits.

Four commissioners voted Tuesday for the staff recommendation, while Commissioner A.J. Fardella abstained from the vote over concerns that it was not constitutional after a spirited discussion of the matter.

"Its overreaching nature would be a violation of the constitution of the state because there is a referendum and law in place," said Fardella, referring to the 1996 state ballot measure passed by voters that approved the use of medical marijuana.

The recommendation now goes to the City Council on Jan. 22 as an ordinance for approval.

In April 2011, City Council members adopted a moratorium, which expires next April, that stopped dispensaries from operating while staff studied whether to permanently ban their operation. A staff report said the ban was needed in the interest of public safety and that the use of medical marijuana is banned under federal law, despite the state ballot measure.

The ban does not prevent qualified patients from growing medical marijuana at their home for personal use. Also, there are exceptions that allow for the use of medical marijuana in health-care facilities such as hospices and nursing homes for patients with chronic life-threatening illnesses.


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Officer Sarah Spires urged commissioners to approve the ban, saying allowing dispensaries to operate would lead to more crime. Earlier this week, a medical marijuana caregiver delivering the drug to a Pittsburg resident from a dispensary outside of the city was robbed of several hundred dollars and beaten by three armed men, she said.

Commissioner Larry Wirick said he was voting for the ban for public safety reasons.

"We could probably make quite a bit of (sales tax) revenue out of the sale of (medical) marijuana within city limits, but having said that, I don't think the police departments needs further problems," he said.

Two commissioners were absent at Tuesday's meeting. One of them, David Fogleman, sent a letter in support of medical marijuana dispensaries operating in Pittsburg, provided stringent regulations were applied.

Before casting his vote in support of the ban, Commissioner Mark Gargalikis said he knew of family members with cancer who had benefited from using marijuana.

"It seemed to help them. I do feel there is good behind this," he said. "Government needs to figure out how to take care of this and have a lot of stringent rules."

If the Planning Commission recommendation is approved by the City Council, Pittsburg would become the latest East Contra Costa city to say no to marijuana dispensaries. Antioch has a moratorium on dispensaries while Oakley and Brentwood have banned them.

Contact Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189. Follow her on Twitter.com/eastcounty_girl.