Commission returns pot ordinance to supervisors

March 17, 2005

Marcia Oxford, Amador Ledger Dispatch

The Planning Commission, faced with a medical pot ordinance that spelled out conditions of a depository rather than a dispensary which was discussed at its February meeting, voted 3-1 against the depository concept and approved the original ordinance to be returned to the board of supervisors. Commissioner Betty Riley was absent from the March 8 meeting. The proposal to restructure the medical marijuana ordinance to relate to depositories was formulated by county counsel, the district attorney, undersheriff and other related agency personnel. The intent was to regulate the location and operation of depositories in compliance with the Compassionate Use Act of 1996. The change to depositories restricted their location to Commercial 1 and Commercial 2 zone districts. The proposed depository ordinance required such depositories to be located at least 1,000 feet from specified “sensitive uses, such as schools, churches, parks, community centers, libraries and other youth-oriented establishments.” However, the 1,000-foot distance from residences in the ordinance related to dispensaries did not appear in the proposed depository ordinance.

Commissioner Erik Christensen, asking why the residential distance provision was removed, was told by Planning Commission Director Susan Grijalva that “legislation did not require that.” After looking at the county from the standpoint of available sites, she said, “There were few within that restriction (and) those were relegated to remote locations. That’s not necessarily the best place to have them from a security and law enforcement standpoint.”

Commissioner John Gonsalves, focusing on the discrepancy in residential distance, said, “They’re concerned about a school with a couple hundred minors Monday through Friday, but not concerned about a home where children live that’s 500 feet from a depository.” Commissioner Barry Risburg commented, “This, in effect, sets up a safety box for medicinal dry marijuana. State law still prohibits transportation of marijuana even for medical use. How is a patient going to transport from where they get it to the depository?”

His concern was echoed by attorney Jeffrey Kravitz and members of the public Ross Jennings, John Ambrosini, Diana Crain and Mike Koll.

“The solution proposed is not a solution,” Kravitz said. “No one would open up a depository. It doesn’t make sense. There is a public health need for medical marijuana.”

Ross Jennings asked, “Why not be forward thinking and go with what the state has voted in and what we, the people, need. We’re not trying to break any laws. You’re making something that’s legal, because the doctor says so, yet you can’t get it until you break the law and get it off the street.”

John Ambrosini said the alternative is driving to the Bay Area to get medicine. “That costs a lot of money. If there was a (dispensary) here, it would make the money go further in Amador County. With a depository, you’d buy it somewhere and let it sit. That won’t help me much. We say we’re waiting on a Supreme Court hearing (on the legality of the voter-approved legislation.) That’s a smokescreen to wait.”

Crain, who said she suffered extreme car sickness before using marijuana, said, “If you don’t abuse it, you can function and have some part of life. If it (the dispensary) is not run right, the county can shut it down.” Koll asked the commissioners to make a decision that would benefit everybody and “consider not making it a depository.”

Andy Byrne, commission chair, said, “The dispensary is the reasonable way to go. A depository doesn’t drive it forward at all. I see the permanent ordinance being more restrictive.” Commissioner Christensen added, “The reality is it ought to be available at pharmacies all over the county. It’s ironic. It’s just a piece of medicine. I find this extremely frustrating.”

Risburg, noting he sees “the value from a medicinal standpoint,” added, “There is still the issue of state law versus federal law. Could someone in Amador County be doing something by the law and have a federal marshal or U.S. attorney come in and take them away. We’d still get in trouble if we pass ordinances in the state and county to facilitate this.”

Kravitz pointed out the Supreme Court case hinges on possession. “In California right now, any medical marijuana could be prosecuted under federal law.” Byrne recommended revisiting the issue following the Supreme Court decision. Commissioners ultimately voted 3-1 to adopt the original dispensary ordinance which goes back to the county’s board of supervisors.

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