Deal OK'd to regulate legal pot shops

July 10, 2006

James Burger, The Bakersfield Californian

Medical marijuana users and Kern County sheriff's officials have crafted an uneasy truce over rules to regulate legal pot shops.

Kern County supervisors approved an ordinance Tuesday morning that will give deputies the power to view the sales records of businesses that dispense medical marijuana and, with a warrant, know the names of the patients using the drug.

But sheriff's deputies won't be able to connect a patient's name to the exact amount of marijuana they've purchased.

That distinction was critical to crafting a compromise over the hot-button new rule, said Amanda Brazel, a spokeswoman for Americans for Safe Access, a pro-medical marijuana group.

Putting names and purchase records together, Brazel said, "builds evidence for the feds. To have that removed (from the ordinance) is a win for patients."

Marijuana advocates spoke out against an earlier version of the county ordinance, saying sheriff's deputies could use it to collect evidence for federal drug officials.

Medical marijuana is legal under California law. But it is still illegal under federal law.

Supervisor Ray Watson expressed concern that splitting up names and purchase records would allow dispensaries to funnel marijuana to criminal users.

Pot advocates said dispensaries don't sell enough to individual patients to make that possible.

Compromise language in the ordinance approved Tuesday was negotiated between pro-marijuana leaders and sheriff's officials.

Both sides gave ground.

Marijuana advocates wanted all oversight of their shops removed from the control of the Sheriff's Department. That didn't happen.

But they also wanted to keep the names of medical marijuana patients off sales records. That did happen.

"What this does is remove the points that, I guess you would call it, intrude on patient rights," said Chief Deputy Willy Wahl.

Both marijuana advocates and Sheriff's Department officials said they can live with the new ordinance.

"I think we've done a good balancing," Supervisor Jon McQuiston said. "I think we do have a better document than we had before."

Both sides said the true test of the ordinance will come when the paper document is acted on and enforced in the coming months.

Other provisions of the ordinance control where dispensaries can be located and a licensing fee for the businesses.

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