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Tram Nguyen

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Suffering from cancer before her death in 2010, former Cal Poly Vice President for Advancement Sandra Ogren had a medical marijuana card — a useless possession at that time in San Luis Obispo County.

But for Ogren, breaking the law was the last thing on her mind, because she was also a former Minnesota Supreme Court associate justice.

“You forced my wife to become an outlaw. Shame on you,” Paul Ogren said with emotion in front of the San Luis Obispo City Council in a May 6 meeting, in an attempt to persuade the council to table an ordinance that prohibits the cultivation, processing and distribution of medical marijuana.

“Everybody here has an unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness,” he said. “It is your hypocrisy for you to be considering this ordinance today.”

A round of applause emerged. Mayor Jan Marx asked people who clapped to exit the room.

The ordinance was proposed by the city staff in response to complaints about noxious odors from outdoor medical marijuana cultivation in a residential area; the odors led to an evacuation of Head Start daycare. The City Council held a public meeting on May 6 to hear opinions from the public about the ordinance before deciding whether to pass it.

The majority of the public opposed to the ordinance, leading to a 4-1 vote by the council to table it. The only council member who supported the ordinance was Dan Carpenter. The council asked that the city staff find a different solution to the nuisance problem caused by the excessive marijuana cultivation.

“Obviously, you can tell I don’t support this ordinance,” Vice Mayor Carlyn Christianson said. “And I didn’t from the minute I read it.”

Under the San Luis Obispo municipal code, a property owner is not permitted to use his or her property in a fashion that constitutes a public nuisance. Also, considering that marijuana is an illegal substance under the Federal Controlled Substances Act, city staff collaborated with the city attorney to draft an ordinance that prohibits all outdoor cultivation of marijuana.

However, it permits limited indoor cultivation and distribution by primary caregivers and qualified patients who need medical marijuana to meet physician’s medical recommendations.

Christianson said she asked for a way to deal with the nuisance caused by the outgrowth of marijuana but didn’t see what she wanted in this ordinance.

Marx said the fact that the odor led to Head Start daycare to evacuate its headquarters is a phenomenon unacceptable in the city.

“I think we do need to address the problem on the nuisance level,” Marx said. “In terms of local distribution, I don’t think we have enough information to deal with that right now.”

The mayor said she was surprised no medical doctor who prescribes patients marijuana participated in the public comment session.

She said many people who need medical marijuana are disabled, so “what we need is safe patient access” to medical marijuana.

“We’re trying to be proactive,” Councilmember John Ashbaugh said. “But I think we have clearly misstepped on this. It is clear to me that right here and now, in this format, this ordinance has not received the normal and customary rounds of review by our adviser bodies, by the public and by ourselves.”

The ordinance was strongly opposed not only by marijuana users and cultivators, but also those who complained about the marijuana odor in their neighborhood.

Cited by the San Luis Obispo Tribune as the main reason for the complaint against the marijuana growth, Denise Shandroff (also representing her husband Mike Shandroff) participated in the public comment session.

“I don’t think we’re that important to the city that our complaints alone warranted this ordinance,” she said. “But I do want to let everybody know here who’s on both sides of the issue, that we are not anti-pot, anti-marijuana use, either for medical or recreational purposes.”

Also taking part in the public comment session, former Councilmember Christine Mulholland described the ordinance as “a solution searching for a problem,” and suggested that the council needs to find a well-defined problem before seeking solutions.

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