Medical pot loses in Sutter

November 16, 2005

Rob Young, Appeal-Democrat

Medical marijuana dispensaries are not indispensable in Sutter County, planning commissioners decided Wednesday night.

The panel voted 5-1 for an ordinance banning dispensaries in the county's zoning code. The Board of Supervisors, which has already voted in favor of a temporary ban, will have the final say.

Commissioner Gabrial Singh cast the only “no” vote, saying dispensaries are needed by cancer and other patients who cannot take other types of pain medication.

Sheriff Jim Denney proposed the zoning ban, saying dispensaries could be raided by federal agents if approved by the county. He also cited law-enforcement problems surrounding dispensaries in other cities, including Roseville.

“This is not about whether medical marijuana has value but whether we can legally have dispensaries,” even with an ordinance, said Denney.

“I uphold all laws, including drug laws. If I am not enforcing federal laws, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI will,” he said.

Even possession of marijuana is illegal under federal law, despite California's approval in 1996 of Proposition 215, which legalized possession of medical marijuana, said Denney.

Singh said Denney's duty is to uphold state and county laws, not federal law.

Denney responded that neither Proposition 215 or the later Senate Bill 420 deals with dispensaries.

Denney said he supports the right of patients to grow their own marijuana in limited quantities. The law allows six mature plants, 12 immature plants and a half-pound of dried marijuana, he said.

Denney said he has instructed his deputies not to confiscate plants without confirming that the patient has an official identification card indicating the drug was grown with a doctor's recommendation. Doctors cannot prescribe marijuana, he said.

The ID cards are unavailable in Sutter County after the Board of Supervisors said the state should issue them, not the county. Anyone who needs a card must get it in Sacramento or in another county, Denney said in an interview.

Besides Singh, only Darren Courtney, a Butte County medical marijuana activist, spoke against the ban.

Courtney, who uses medical marijuana for neurological problems, said he is forced to travel to other counties to buy it. The dispensary issue is “still on the table” in Butte County, which he described as more liberal than Sutter County.

Not all dispensaries are plagued with crime like some in the Bay Area, said Courtney.

Even if dispensaries are legalized in Sutter County, the question remains of how they would be regulated, said Denney.

“I can assure you that I and my staff will not. I won't enable anyone to violate federal law,” he said.

Denney denied Singh's accusation that his stance on the dispensary issue is influenced by his religious beliefs.


Commissioners Jana Shannon, Maynard Dunn, Preet Khan, Annette Bertolini and Craig Starkey voted for the ordinance. Member Diljit Bains was absent.

Yuba City and Live Oak previously voted to ban dispensaries.

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