Council OKs medicinal pot ordinances

June 15, 2005

Tony Reed, The Advocate

In one of the shortest meetings on record, the City Council approved an ordinance requiring a regulatory permit to operate a medical marijuana dispensary in the city, while imposing some operational restrictions.

According to staff reports, the ordinance was introduced at the council meeting of May 23 and a public hearing was held.

'The question arose during the public hearing regarding whether the Police Department was the proper authority to oversee the application process or whether that responsibility should fall to the Mendocino County Health Department,' said staff reports. The City Council directed staff to contact the Mendocino County Health Department regarding its interest and ability to handle the application process for medical marijuana dispensaries on behalf of the city.

City Manager Andy Whiteman said staff contacted the Health Department and provided its staff with a copy of the proposed ordinance for review and comment.

'Specifically, we asked if the Public Health Department could assume the responsibility for the City of Fort Bragg and process the applications for employees who work in the clinics. After reviewing the ordinance, the Public Health Department believes that it is more appropriate to have the Fort Bragg Police Department process the applications because the ordinance establishes administrative regulations rather than health code standards for the operation of a medical marijuana clinic,' said staff reports.

Although the county Public Health Department will be issuing medical marijuana identification cards, the department does not inspect pharmacies or health clinics for health code compliance. Whiteman said that only the state has the authority to inspect pharmacies and there are no state or county guidelines or authority for medical marijuana clinics. Unless food is being served, no regulatory oversight by the Public Health Department is required.

The application process as adopted by the council Monday night requires use permit applications to be submitted first to the police chief. A background check of the applicant and all listed employees will be conducted, along with an investigation of the application.

If the application is rejected by the police chief, the applicant may appeal such decision to the City Council. If the application is not rejected, it is then forwarded to the Community Development Department for processing using the same permit process and requirements for a use permit as defined in the Fort Bragg Municipal Code Title 18 (Land Use and Development Code).

Land use amendment

The council also waived a first reading of and introduced an ordinance that would amend the municipal code to include marijuana dispensaries as a conditional use in light industrial and heavy industrial zoning districts. The amendment also defines dispensaries as 'any facility or location where medical marijuana is made available to and/or distributed by one or more of the following: a primary caregiver, a qualified patient, or a person with an identification card, in strict accordance with California Health and Safety Code.'

Community Development Director Linda Ruffing said that since the ordinance amends a zoning code, state law required a public hearing. The Planning Commission conducted a public hearing and made a recommendation to the council on June 8. No public comments were received and the commission adopted a resolution.

Council member Jere Melo said that he supported the amendment and ordinance, as it would keep dispensaries out of residential areas, and keep them in the light to heavy industrial zones.

The council's waiving of the first reading introduces the ordinance, which will come back to the council for final adoption at an upcoming meeting.

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