Sonoma medical marijuana co-op set to open

March 01, 2004

Joshua Coman , Index-Tribune

Those who have been prescribed marijuana for medical purposes will no longer need to travel far to fill their prescriptions. A lease has been signed for a proposed medical marijuana store on Broadway, and the owner is currently working to obtain the necessary permits to begin selling the controversial substance.

Although the store will be operating in city limits, the owners plan to keep the store low profile and will only be selling to a select clientele.

'We are not going to be advertising - it's not something that will be open to the public,' said Karen van Kayne, one of the store's owners and also the mother of the proprietor, Aaron Mitchell. 'It is for card-carrying patients with licenses to smoke marijuana for medical needs.'

Aaron Mitchell is the 25-year-old son of the late Artie Mitchell of the 'Mitchell Brothers' filmmaking fame. The Mitchell Brothers were well known for their role in producing X-rated films and for their ownership of 11 X-rated movie houses.

An opening date for the medical marijuana store has not yet been set and will be based entirely upon how long it takes to get the permits, van Kayne said. Most of the product will come from local growers, she added.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Web site states that there are no state regulations regarding either the cultivation or distribution of medical marijuana. Regulation is left to the individual counties and cities.

Unlike Sebastopol and Santa Rosa, the City of Sonoma currently has no regulations on the books concerning medical marijuana distributors.

In Sonoma County it is legal to possess 99 plants and three pounds of dried marijuana with a prescription, although patients who fall into a category called 'exceptional' may, with a waiver from a physician, possess more.

Sonoma City Manager Mike Fuson said that without specific city ordinances in place, legally the city can only consider whether the building is zoned for this type of storefront dispensary - not the ethics of a medical marijuana site.

'The question here is: Is there anything in the zoning code that addresses this?' Fuson said.

As it is permitted under state law, local law enforcement agents have little to say about the proposal.

'We would view this as any new business coming into town,' Sonoma police Capt. Steve Willis said. 'As long as they are operating within the guidelines set forth by the city and state, they are more than welcome to operate here.'

Other than the possibility of land-use issues, the only threat the business faces is the federal government.

Although 56 percent of the state's voters approved the use of marijuana to treat medical conditions such as AIDS, glaucoma, cancer, chronic pain and mood disorders with the passage of the Compassionate Use Act in 1996, the federal government does not recognize that state law.

Both businesses that provide medical marijuana and physicians who prescribe it have been the subject of intense government scrutiny since the passage of the new law.

Doctors who prescribe the drug are subject to revocation of their licenses by the state medical board and prosecution by the federal government. Distributors and growers are subject to seizure of their property and criminal sanctions under federal law.

There are currently eight states that allow marijuana to be prescribed for medical purposes. Besides California, they are Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

The lease to the building that will soon house the store was signed on the 13th anniversary of the murder of proprietor Aaron Mitchell's father, Artie Mitchell, van Kayne said. Artie Mitchell was shot to death by his brother, Jim, on Feb. 27, 1991, at Artie's Corte Madera home.

At trial, Jim Mitchell argued that the murder was an accident stemming from attempting to break his brother's drug and alcohol addiction. Jim served three years in San Quentin before his release.



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