County to weigh a moratorium on marijuana shops

September 20, 2004

Cameron Jahn, Sacramento Bee

The battle over medical marijuana is smoking again, this time in Sacramento County, where the Board of Supervisors is scheduled to decide today whether to put a moratorium on dispensaries for the drug.

The county is the latest governmental body in the region to tackle the medical marijuana issue. While Californians in 1996 adopted a measure in support of medical marijuana - and the Legislature allowed operation of dispensaries for those with prescriptions - the federal government maintains the drug is still illegal.

Local governments across the region have scrambled to write new rules for cannabis shops as proposals for dispensaries roll in.

Citrus Heights, Elk Grove, Roseville and Auburn have passed ordinances to regulate dispensaries, while Davis, Dixon and Rancho Cordova have passed moratoriums. Rocklin has banned cannabis sales outright.

Sacramento County Counsel Robert Ryan said medical marijuana dispensaries are illegal in the unincorporated area because they are not mentioned in the county's zoning code. However, medicinal marijuana advocates argue dispensaries need no more regulation than do pharmacies.

'We do understand the need for zoning and regulation, and that can in many cases help the patient,' said Nathan Sands, Sacramento representative for Compassionate Coalition, a pro-medical marijuana organization with branches in Redding, Stan islaus and San Joaquin counties. 'Unfortunately, cities have been unable to adopt fair regulations.'

Ryan said the moratorium would give officials 'a time-out for those who regulate these businesses to come forward and figure out what to do.

'There is an obvious lack of clarity, and there has been no policy determination, so we thought instead of enforcement people making those calls we should let the board make a determination.'

If passed, the moratorium would ban medical marijuana dispensaries from opening anywhere in the unincorporated area of the county for a month while officials from the offices of the district attorney, county executive, and sheriff, and planning and tax collection agencies, decide how to regulate - or prohibit altogether - such businesses.

With no regulations on the books, the dispensaries 'present a clear and present threat to the general public, health, safety and welfare,' according to the ordinance supervisors will vote on today.

Consideration of a moratorium was spurred by a request to open a dispensary in Orange vale at 6046 Hazel Ave., south of Greenback Lane.

County officials denied the request by John Ambrosini in June, along with that of Richard Fischer, who wanted to open a dispensary at 1827 Fulton Ave.

Jeff Kravitz, an attorney representing Ambrosini, said he and his client are all for proper regulation, as long as it doesn't intrude on a patient's right to obtain medical marijuana.

Sands said he supports background checks for anyone opening a dispensary and keeping them away from residential areas. But, he said, some local governments have been heavy-handed in fashioning unfair regulations.

About the Writer
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The Bee's Cameron Jahn can be reached at (916) 321-1038 or cjahn@sacbee.com.



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