San Mateo officials keeping hands off pot club regulation

October 26, 2005

Laura Ernde, Daily Review

REDWOOD CITY — Pot clubs have popped up all over the Bay Area since the state legalized the drug for medical use, but San Mateo County has been largely untouched by the trend.

And officials here say that's just fine by them.

The county will soon go as far as processing state-mandated identification cards to medical marijuana patients and their caregivers.

But supervisors say they have not seen enough demand to warrant regulating the dispensaries themselves.

"What I don't want to do is open Pandora's box," said Supervisor Adrienne Tissier, who questions whether the clubs in San Francisco are distributing marijuana to people who are really in need.

San Francisco supervisors are in the midst of tackling the sticky subject of how to regulate the more than 30 medical marijuana clubs that have sprung up throughout the city. They have issued a moratorium on any new clubs.

Just to the south, San Mateo County Sheriff Don Horsley and other local officials said they aren't aware of any clubs or dispensaries anywhere in the county.

A couple of people have recently come out of the woodwork.

Rob Simmons of Belmont, who claims he has run a medical marijuana dispensary out of his home for more than eight years, is being prosecuted on drug charges. Authorities say his operation does not comply with state law on dispensaries.

In addition, Michael Resendez said he was evicted from his house in Millbrae for growing what he termed a "collective garden," where a group of patients got together to cultivate marijuana.

Resendez, a disabled veteran who has his doctor's permission to use marijuana for pain and mood disorders, said he is temporarily living in Burlingame and is searching for a piece of land in the unincorporated part of the county to plant another crop.

"A lot of people are afraid of just dispensing because they believe it's kind of like a drug house," he said. "That's not what dispensing is supposed to be."

California law does allow patients or their caregivers to operate dispensing collectives or cooperatives, said Hilary McQuie, spokeswoman for the Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access.

She believes a number of them already exist in private homes throughout the county and below the radar of officials.

In any case, there has been no proliferation of drop-in clubs of the kind San Francisco has seen.

Officials aren't sure why there's a vacuum, but say perhaps it's because San Mateo County residents can so easily access the San Francisco clubs.

Of the four supervisors reached Wednesday, all said they support the medical use of marijuana by cancer patients and others truly in need.

"(If there's) anything we can do to help people prolong their lives, then certainly I would be interested in that," Supervisor Rose Jacobs Gibson said.

The San Mateo County Health Department is preparing to begin processing state-mandated identification cards to patients and their caregivers as soon as January, said John Conley, deputy director of public health.

This is how it will work. County residents who have a note from their doctor can apply for a card through the health department, he said.

The fee has not yet been determined, but will be around $60. Medi-Cal patients will get a 50-percent discount, he said.

The county will verify the application and take the photo for the ID card, which will then be issued by the state. The county, not the state, will keep the names and addresses of all the patients and caregivers who receive cards.

The card program was mandated by a state law that took effect in December 2003.

The state estimates that 1,900 county residents will receive the cards.

Right now, Horsley said sheriff's deputies recognize medical marijuana ID cards issued in San Francisco and other jurisdictions.

Conley was not sure whether the San Mateo cards could be used at San Francisco pot clubs.

Although supervisors don't now see a need for pot club regulations, Tissier said that could change as they learn more about the demand for medical marijuana through the identification card program.

Only three counties and 19 cities across the state have have established pot club regulations, McQuie said.

On Tuesday, the Santa Cruz City Council voted to create a city department to hand out medicinal marijuana.

 

Staff writer Laura Ernde can be reached at (650) 306-2428 or by e-mail at lernde@dailyreviewonline.com.



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