County OKs cannabis ordinance

February 07, 2005

Chris Nichols, Union Democrat - Calaveras

Medical marijuana backers won a major victory yesterday when Calaveras County supervisors opened the door for cannabis dispensaries in the county.

The board's 3-to-2 vote will make buying medical marijuana easier for many patients and their caretakers who now travel to cannabis clubs in the Bay Area, said San Andreas resident Kim Cue, who applied last fall to open the county's first cannabis club.

'I cannot put into words how excited I am,' Cue said. 'My bones are just shaking.


California voters approved the limited harvest and sale of medical marijuana in 1996 by passing Proposition 215, known as the Compassionate Use Act. But only a handful of counties — including San Francisco, Alameda, Sacramento and Amador — have approved the operation of cannabis dispensaries.

Cue and county officials estimate there are more than 200 medical marijuana patients in Calaveras County.

Under the county's first ever cannabis ordinance, Cue must still apply for a permit to open her club and will be subject to strict guidelines on where and how she operates the business.

Cue said she is considering two vacant storefronts in San Andreas, including 596 E. St. Charles Street near Mountain Ranch Road and 154 E. St. Charles Street next door to Anchor Prints.

She said she hopes to open a dispensary by April 1.

No dispensary can be located within 1,000 feet of a school or youth-related establishment, according to the county law. Background checks on owners and audits of financial records will be standard for all dispensaries.

Tuolumne County officials have discussed, but have not finalized a cannabis ordinance.

Calaveras County supervisors Merita Callaway, Tom Tryon and Steve Wilensky voted for the ordinance. Victoria Erickson and Bill Claudino voted against it.

'I think we owe it to what the voters of California voted for,' Callaway said, speaking at yesterday's Board of Supervisors meeting.

The three supervisors favoring the ordinance said any cannabis club will have to follow strict security measures to prevent marijuana from being sold to nonpatients and to minors.

Under California law, the sale of medical marijuana is limited to patients who have received a physician's recommendation.

Claudino said he was skeptical about the recommendations made by some doctors, adding that nonpatients and teenagers can easily obtain prescriptions for cannabis.

'I don't think it's in the best interest of the residents of Calaveras County,' Claudino said.

Sheriff Dennis Downum said the dispensaries put law enforcement officials in a difficult position.

Under federal law, the sale or use of marijuana for any purpose remains illegal.

Downum said his department will regulate any dispensaries according to the county ordinance. But he said his department will also cooperate with federal authorities in shutting down any cannabis club, if requested.

Numerous clubs in other counties have been raided and shut down by federal authorities. Downum said he expects the same will happen in Calaveras County.

'It'll happen,' Downum said after yesterday's meeting.

Public reaction to yesterday's ruling was mixed.

Several residents in San Andreas, where Cue hopes to open a dispensary, said they sympathize with patients who use medical marijuana, but oppose a dispensary opening in the county seat.

'It's not good for our town,' said Shirley Holligan, pausing outside Anchor Prints at 156 E. Saint Charles St.

Holligan, who has lived in San Andreas for 35 years, said she would support medical marijuana sales if they were done through regulated pharmacies, but not at separate storefronts.

Reaction at nearby Hemptation, a smoking accessories shop, was decidedly different.

'I think it's great,' said Tina Graham, who works at the shop. '(Medical marijuana) helps out a lot of people.'

Graham added that many of Hemptation's customers are medical marijuana patients.

Seated on a bench across the street from the shop, 17-year-old Bret Cassel — like many county officials over the past few months — wrestled with whether a cannabis club was a good idea.

'There'd probably be more crime,' said Cassel, who attends Mountain Oaks Home School. 'On a positive note, it would be easier for people who need it to get it. It'd probably be easier for kids to get a hold of it, too. It has good and bad.'

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