Supes punt on pot dispensary regs

January 17, 2008

Mike A\'Dair, Willits News (CA)

Supervisors agreed to take no action on two draft ordinances that would have regulated medical marijuana dispensaries in Mendocino County.

The board took no action because a majority of board members concluded the county is not currently having any problems with medical marijuana dispensaries. There are currently three dispensaries in the county: two in the Ukiah area and one in the Fort Bragg area.

The draft ordinances were the product of the board's 2007 Criminal Justice Committee (CJC), chaired by Jim Wattenburger. Michael Delbar was the second committee member.

The CJC could not reach agreement on a single ordinance, so brought two ordinances to the board for consideration. One ordinance (crafted by Wattenburger) would have limited the number of allowable dispensaries in the county to three, and would have limited the number of clients that could have been served by each dispensary at 20 per day. The other ordinance (crafted by Delbar) would have banned all dispensaries in the county.

The Wattenburger ordinance also contained other restrictions. It would have prohibited dispensaries being set up within 1,000 feet of a church, school, park, smoke shop or another dispensary. It also would have required dispensary clients to be legal residents of Mendocino County.

Several people addressed the board on the matter; nearly all of the comments were directed toward the Wattenburger version. Most agreed his version of the ordinance was a good first step, but needed fine-tuning.

Dona Franks, owner and manager of a Sonoma County dispensary, felt setting the limit at 20 clients a day was too restrictive. "Try to run a business with only 20 people coming in a day."

Attorney Lisa Gygax, who has been working with Americans for Safe Access as well as regularly attending CJC meetings, also believes the Wattenburger version is too restrictive. "By setting the limit at three dispensaries, you are creating the kind of impacts that this board is trying to avoid."

Supervisor John Pinches said he couldn't support either version. "To me, these ordinances are an affront to Proposition 215. There's nobody who could weave their way through all of these restrictions a thousand feet here, a thousand feet there. In a little town like Covelo or Legget, if we put this in, you put in these restrictions and pretty soon there's no place in those towns you could put in a dispensary.

"It was the intent of people when they passed 215 was to give people access to medical cannibis. And both of these ordinances don't do that."

Supervisor David Colfax felt adoption of the Wattenburger ordinance would represent a legal liability for the county.

"Local government has no business trying to circumvent federal law, because we know we are going to lose that battle," Colfax said.

"I find it very strange that the county is willing to be complicit in this activity," he added. "I understand the intent. But to me it seems to try to give standing to an activity which the federal government has deemed illegal. I'm uncomfortable that this (a dispensary business license) is being granted on the basis of verifiable information.

"Is the county prepared to provide legal counsel to individuals who come forward with this evidence?"

"We're not requiring them to give us this information," Deputy County Counsel Doug Losak told Colfax. "We are saying, if you want this permit, you have to give us that information."

The swing vote on the question was Supervisor Kendall Smith, who said she did not feel the ordinance was in its final form.

Pinches asked why dispensaries needed to be regulated. He said since there are only three dispensaries in the county, there really isn't any problem with them. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

"The bottom line is, dispensaries are illegal," Delbar replied. "They are not in 215; they are not in 420. The problem we have is there are no controls on selling medical marijuana. It's not like we are talking about tennis shoes and toothpaste here, folks.

"We have no say whatsoever, if someone wanted to come in and open up a dispensary, next to a school, operated by a guy with a criminal background, and he wanted to run it 24/7 selling to minors, there isn't a damn thing we could do about it.

"The responsible, pro-active route for this body to take is to take a pro-active role and take action on this now, before there is a problem," Delbar said.

But his reasoning carried little weight with the board, which decided to take no action on the matter.

Pinches attempted to put a positive spin on the CJC's efforts. "I think we have ended up with a result here," he said. "We have had attorneys that have worked on this, to tell us what could be done, and what could not be done.

"I think a lot of work has been done here and that won't be lost. One of the results is, we're startin' to get some state legislators talkin' about this. And for that, I commend you."

But Wattenburger told the board. "I am greatly disappointed that we were not able to step up to the plate. I am tragically disappointed. So, the situation will continue as present and that is a darn shame."



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