Tracy pot store to be shut down

November 20, 2006

Phil Hayworth, Tracy Press (CA)

“Sally” describes herself as a 50-year-old professional in the education field who uses marijuana to relax back muscles that often get so tense that she can’t sleep. Her doctor recently prescribed marijuana for the tension, and she remembers how well it worked 10 years ago when she had cancer and the chemotherapy made her so sick that she had no appetite. It helped her then, and it helped her again Monday, when she drove in from Stanislaus County to buy a $10 marijuana-laced brownie from Tracy’s medical marijuana dispensary, which quietly opened three weeks ago in a nondescript storefront on West 11th Street. “It was just like a doctor’s office,” she said. It had a professional atmosphere, she said, including information booklets on display and even a Good Housekeeping magazine. And she said one giant brownie — like the one she picked up — can last a week and relaxes her back muscles immediately. Tracy’s dispensary is a far cry from the ones in Oakland, she said, where people hidden behind black sheets dole out pot in dark corners. “It made you feel like you were doing something wrong,” she said. “But I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I have a medical marijuana card and a doctor’s prescription.” She’s hoping those bad old days of sketchy, back-alley marijuana dispensaries are over. Unfortunately for Sally, the Valley Wellness Center Collective, the name of Tracy’s second medical marijuana dispensary, will likely close as quickly as it opened. That’s because Tracy, like every city in San Joaquin County, doesn’t list marijuana dispensation as legal use, and the city already has the store in its sights. “Any use not listed is prohibited,” said city deputy attorney Bill Sartor. “It sounds like they’re going to use the same old ‘zoning’ argument that they’re using in Stockton and other cities,” said Nathan Sands, spokesman for The Compassionate Coalition, a nationwide medical marijuana group with 13 chapters spread throughout California and four other states. It’s also the same argument used to shut down Tracy’s first dispensary, which opened in May and closed just three days later. Sartor said no one has ever asked the city to list marijuana dispensation as legal use. Until they do so and win, any group that opens a dispensary will likely be quickly investigated and closed. “We will be taking appropriate actions,” Sartor said. “It’s not a listed use, therefore it’s prohibited under our zoning.” The business license lists Anthony Denner as the collective’s owner. It opened Oct. 31, almost 10 years to the day that California voters passed Proposition 215, allowing people suffering certain ailments to grow and use marijuana to relieve symptoms. But that doesn’t matter, Sartor said. City ordinances prevail over state law. If dispensaries open in county jurisdiction, “the counties simply work with the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Internal Revenue Service to shut it down,” Sands said. “I think everyone’s waiting for Congress to change the law,” Sands said. But even if Congress makes medical marijuana legal — eliminating the conflict with state law — cities and their councils would likely reserve the right to have the final say as to where and exactly how medical marijuana is dispensed, if at all. Until the legalities are worked out, groups like the Valley Wellness Center Collective will likely have to operate surreptitiously. For example, the center listed on its business license that it was a retail operation. Had it listed marijuana retail as an activity, it wouldn’t have been issued the permit, Sartor said. The center’s manager, who identified himself as James and declined to give his last name, said he had no idea how authorities and news media found out about his business. About 75 people use the center each week, but nearly 80 percent — about 60 people — are from Tracy, he said. Out-of-towners like Sally are rare visitors, even as dispensaries have been driven from elsewhere in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. There are an estimated six dispensaries in Sacramento — 40 in San Francisco, 40 in the Bay Area and 150 statewide. James said people sick with cancer, AIDs and other diseases are often too weak to drive long distances for their medication. And although there are specialized services that deliver medical marijuana, few sick people can afford it. “Really sick people need this place,” he said. “All we wanted to do was offer an accessible and affordable way for sick people to get their medication.”

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