Seaside, Marina Postpone Decision on Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

May 17, 2006

Raul Vasquez, Monterey County Weekly

Seaside and Marina officials are in no hurry to grant zoning permits that would allow medical marijuana dispensary sites to spring up in their cities. This fact has Jhonrico Carrnshimba rethinking his whole “front-door” strategy.

Two months ago, Carrnshimba, 25, put together a business plan and submitted it to Seaside and Marina officials with the hope that one or both cities would quickly grant him a permit to open Monterey County’s first cannabis club.

“Having a dispensary here would serve the needs of sick people who now have to go to other regions, like San Francisco, to get a hold of medical marijuana,” says Carrnshimba, a newcomer to the cannabis club business. “My plan calls for an extremely strict operation that would verify with people’s doctors that they were really sick.”

Since neither Seaside or Marina have ordinances regulating medical marijuana dispensing locations, officials at both cities opted to put 45-day moratoriums into effect to first study the legalities surrounding medical marijuana dispensary locations.

Now, it appears that the 45-day moratoriums will be extended for about 10 more months in each city. During this time, city officials won’t have to approve or deny a zoning permit for Carrnshimba’s proposed dispensary until after they prepare new ordinances governing those types of sites.

“The way it looks now, we’re probably not going to get an ordinance together before the 45-day moratorium expiration date,” says Lou Dell’Angela, Seaside’s community development director who is charged with leading a fact-finding mission about medical marijuana locations in the state. “Probably at the June 1 City Council meeting, the City is going to extend the moratorium in order to give us additional time to study the issue.”

Ila Metee-McCutchon, Marina’s mayor, says the Marina City Council will likely do the same thing at the June 6 meeting. “Right now, the feds say no [to medical marijuana dispensaries], but the state says yes,” Metee-McCutchon says. “One reason for the delay is to try and get some guidance from the County on the issue, but so far I don’t think they have, so it’s probably up to each individual city to decide.

“This could be a legal mess to untangle.”

Carrnshimba isn’t happy with the delays, and says if he could do it over, he might have just gone ahead and opened a dispensary location without first receiving a zoning permit. He wouldn’t be the first to take a back-door approach.

Several dozen medical marijuana sites have opened up and down the state since 1996, when voters approved Prop. 215, legalizing medical marijuana sites. While some dispensaries are officially sanctioned by local governments (as in Alameda County), many others are open and operating even as local officials scramble to regulate their existence (as in Contra Costa County).

Dell’Angela says the stances over medical marijuana dispensaries by local jurisdictions in the state are “all over the map.” Cities like Santa Cruz approve of dispensary sites but others, including Rockford, have outlawed them.

Although California officials say it’s OK for sick patients to use pot for medicinal purposes, federal authorities treat it as just another illicit drug, and have arrested activists who have tried to assert their “rights” to use marijuana.

Hugh Stallworth, health officer for the Monterey County Health Department, acknowledges that the County has put off creating medical marijuana identification cards because of the existing legal limbo.

“One problem by issuing ID cards to people is: Are we making the citizens of this county [with those ID cards] more vulnerable to federal prosecution?” Stallworth says. “The laws just haven’t been clarified enough.”

Carrnshimba, meanwhile, says he will continue to meet with city officials in both Seaside and Marina to try and move the process forward. “I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do,” Carrnshimba says. “People keep asking me, ‘So when are you going to open one up?’ and I keep telling them, ‘I’m trying.’”

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