Pittsburg and Antioch both said "no" to marijuana dispensaries this week, joining a growing list of cities that have done so in California. But it was a tale of two cities as far as how they came to their decisions.
While Pittsburg approved its version of the ban without any discussion or opposition, Antioch leaders gave final approval to the ordinance in a divided 3-2 decision.
The restriction stops dispensaries, mobile delivery service and cultivation in the East Contra Costa cities, but does not prevent qualified patients from getting marijuana in limited situations, such as licensed clinics, hospices and nursing homes for patients with chronic life-threatening illnesses.
Qualified patients can still grow marijuana at their homes for personal use.
Antioch's ban goes into effect in 30 days. Pittsburg's ordinance will come back for final approval at the council's Feb. 19 meeting; if approved, it will kick in a month later. Oakley and Brentwood have also banned medical marijuana dispensaries.
The use of medical marijuana is banned under federal law, despite a measure approved by California voters in 1996 that allowed its use. However, it is left up to local governments to determine whether to allow dispensaries to operate within their jurisdictions.
The decisions by the two city councils sided with their staffs' recommendations over concerns about the secondary effects of marijuana facilities -- namely criminal activity such as burglary, robbery and the sale of illegal drugs, particularly to youngsters.
Pittsburg's lack of participation didn't surprise Mayor Nancy Parent.
"I think they knew they were going to lose," she said.
When the moratorium was first proposed in April 2011, the only opposition came from the operators of the East Bay Collective.
"Their problem was they opened a business without any permits, without any business license," Parent said. "They started with one foot in the grave and apparently they could not get anybody else to speak for them."
Antioch also put a moratorium on cannabis clubs in early 2011 after learning a dispensary opened in a shopping plaza off Wild Horse Road without permits and near a preschool and day care center. Police also received complaints about people smoking marijuana outside and loitering.
The landlord was already in the process of evicting the dispensary before the city intervened.
Cannabis proponents at Antioch meetings in the past months have countered city staff assertions by saying that dispensaries, if operated and regulated appropriately, could generate much-needed revenue for the city.
Ed Breslin, the United Food and Commercial Workers union's national coordinator for cannabis and hemp, said a dispensary would create 10 jobs in the city. More than 200 Antioch residents go to a dispensary in Hercules, he said.
"It's just a matter of education," Breslin said.
Mayor Wade Harper and Councilmembers Gary Agopian and Monica Wilson voted for the ordinance, while Mayor Pro Tem Mary Rocha and Councilman Tony Tiscareno voted against, saying they wanted to explore more of the possible economic benefits.
The majority of the council said that the distribution of cannabis should be done through more proper channels such as pharmacies.
"We all want jobs. We love creating jobs. But, I'm still against dispensaries. I don't think they belong in Antioch," Harper said.