Calaveras panel just says no to pot proposal

November 04, 2004

Chris Nichols, Union Democrat

If a medical marijuana dispensary opens in Calaveras County, it will be over the objections of county planning commissioners.

By a 4 to 1 margin, they voted yesterday not to recommend a draft ordinance that would allow Kim Cue of San Andreas, or any other applicants, to open the county's first cannabis club, as the dispensaries are commonly called.

The Board of Supervisors will have a final vote on the ordinance Nov. 22.

"I am very disappointed," Cue said, speaking after yesterday's bimonthly commission meeting. Cue applied two months ago to open a cannabis club near the intersection of Highway 49 and Mountain Ranch Road.

Without laws on the books for how to regulate cannabis clubs, supervisors last month placed a 45-day ban on any dispensaries in the county. They extended that ban another 60 days on Monday.

Despite the commission stance, Cue said she remains optimistic about her chances of opening a club soon.

"I have all the faith in the world that (the board) will pass it," Cue said. "I'm not going anywhere, it's going to get done."

The 29-year-old Antioch native currently runs a delivery service providing medical marijuana to 60 to 70 patients throughout the county and beyond.

Citing safety concerns and a lack of evidence that cannabis clubs would be regulated, several commissioners said yesterday they were uncomfortable recommending the ordinance.

"To my mind, this is not the way to go about it," said Commissioner Suzanne Kuehl, who added that she would support medical marijuana only if it received federal approval and was sold through pharmacies. She added that she has used numerous pharmaceutical medications for 16 years to treat a chronic illness but was not convinced that marijuana should be allowed as medication.

Medical cannabis became legal in 1996 after California voters approved Proposition 215, allowing for the sale and harvest of limited amounts of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Federal law bans all marijuana use.

Several cities and counties, including Angels Camp and Amador County, have passed ordinances regulating cannabis clubs, dictating where they can open and how much marijuana they can have on site.

During yesterday's meeting, several commissioners wrestled with how to balance the conflicting state and federal positions on medical marijuana.

"I have trouble giving approval to something that clearly is against federal law," Commission Chairman Ted Allured said. He added he was not convinced that the county must allow the dispensaries to operate.

"To me, (Proposition 215) says we can do it but that doesn't mean we have to do it," he said.

Commissioner Michael Dell'Orto voted against the negative recommendation. He argued that the state has a constitutional right to make its own laws, and that the county should follow the Proposition 215 guidelines.

"The people of California have said they want this addressed," Dell'Orto said.

After the meeting, County Counsel James Jones said Proposition 215 legalizes medical marijuana but does not compel counties to open cannabis dispensaries.

Though Cue said she would seek legal advice if the county rejects her application, Jones would not predict whether such a decision would open the county to a lawsuit.

"In these times, virtually anything can," he commented.

He confirmed that extraordinary circumstances, including a heightened concern for public safety, could justify a county decision to reject the ordinance.

Representing the county Sheriff's Department at yesterday's meeting, Capt. Mike Walker said he was concerned the potentially "huge indoor growing operation" at Cue's dispensary would attract criminals.

Under the ordinance, dispensaries could grow six mature marijuana plants and 12 immature plants for each patient they serve.

Walker said this and the large amount of cash stored at such a business could make it a target for thieves.

Cue said she projects that her business could serve hundreds of patients but said she would do "everything possible" to reduce the risk of theft. She added that plants would not be grown on site but rather received from outside vendors. She also said she would not allow any customers under age 25.

Though she said she remains confident that she will open a dispensary by early next year, Cue said she has consulted seven attorneys, including famed civil rights and criminal defense attorney Tony Serra, to aid her in her in the process.

"If this county doesn't want to support me, I'm going to have to take legal actions," she said.

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