Mendo supes say no thanks' to marijuana regulation

April 05, 2005

K.C. Meadows, Ukiah Daily Journal

In a rambling and inconclusive discussion, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors decided Tuesday not to do anything about regulating or trying to make money off medical marijuana.

The subject came up two weeks ago during a budget discussion when Supervisor Jim Wattenburger said he thought the county ought to think about taxing medical marijuana to help with the budget crisis.

Wattenburger then asked to have the subject put on this week's agenda and had representatives from the Health Department and the Sheriff's Department on hand to answer questions.

But the supervisors themselves appeared to be at a loss over what they were being asked to discuss. Was it about raising revenue? Was it, as Wattenburger says he now sees it, about health? Or was it about possible abuses by the local medical marijuana dispensaries in the city of Ukiah, as supervisor Mike Delbar saw it?

Wattenburger brought back to the board a proposal the county got a year ago from a for-profit organization, AHIMSA International of Agoura Hills, that is trying to get California counties to form dispensaries of their own with its help. AHIMSA says its plan could raise $16 billion annually for the state. It says the way it raises funds is by testing and ensuring the safety of the marijuana being dispensed to patients and then selling it.

No one argues that currently a lot of medical marijuana being grown for patients is full of heavy metals and pesticides and can be dangerous.

Wattenburger said after he saw the AHIMSA information about the dangers of unhealthy marijuana, he was convinced the county needed to do something.

'I mentioned this two weeks ago and have suddenly become the poster child of medical marijuana advocacy,' Wattenburger said. 'I'd like to make it clear I'm not in favor of the illegal type of marijuana, the broad growing for greed' situation, only medical marijuana for legitimate reasons. It seems to me, and the public perceives it also, that Prop. 215 was a half step,' and that the next step should be some kind of regulation.

As to the revenue side, Interim County Counsel Frank Zotter said that since medical marijuana wasn't defined as a prescription drug, it could probably be taxed but said more research would be needed.

Health Department Director Carol Mordhorst told the board her department was going to be part of a state pilot program to implement the new state law, SB 420, which made medical marijuana ID cards a statewide program to be implemented primarily by county health departments. She said she would probably be coming to the board in May with her recommendations for this county's program, which would then switch the ID card system from the county sheriff to the Health Department and institute fees only to cover costs.

No one had apparently taken the AHIMSA dispensing plan seriously in 2004 and didn't appear to now.

The supervisors debated over a variety of things to do: send the medical marijuana debate to committee (but which committee?); let Wattenburger continue his own research; get staff to continue looking at the possibilities; or create an ad hoc committee of supervisors to begin looking into regulating the medical marijuana industry.

In the end, they decided to table the whole issue and Wattenburger said he'd continue to look at it on his own.

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