Council stands to adopt marijuana ordinance

November 09, 2004

Sean Rabé, Amador Ledger Dispatch

Following the lead of several other Amador County municipalities, the Sutter Creek City Council recently took the first step in adopting an ordinance restricting the location of medical marijuana facilities in town. Last week, the council voted to waive the first reading of the ordinance 3-1, with Councilman Pat Crosby voting no and Councilman Gary Wooten absent. Crosby clarified his no vote by stating he thinks medical marijuana should be sold in pharmacies only.

The ordinance is very similar to emergency ordinances recently adopted by Jackson, Plymouth and Amador County. City Attorney Dennis Crabb, who also serves as the city attorney for Jackson, drafted the document.

The ordinance was adopted as an urgency ordinance, meaning that it is effective immediately.

The document provides for restrictions on such things as the location of proposed facilities, the overall operation of a facility and spells out the minimum requirements for the issuance of a use permit for a dispensary.

According to language in the emergency ordinance, if the council had not approved the emergency ordinance, an unregulated dispensary could have opened and, from that point, be grandfathered in its operation outside any ordinance the county adopted in the future.

According to the ordinance, any person or entity wishing to operate a medicinal marijuana dispensary must be issued a use permit and city business license, which would be valid for one year only. Prior to the issuance of the permit, the city manager/police chief, in consultation with the sheriff, will conduct a background check of any applicant or employee of the applicant.

Additionally, the ordinance spells out specific zoning districts for the location of the dispensary. According to the ordinance, a dispensary may only be located within the light industrial and commercial zoning areas.

The ordinance also provides several restrictions on the dispensary once it has been permitted by the county.

The medical marijuana dispensary may possess no more than eight ounces of dried marijuana per qualified patient or caregiver and cannot maintain more than six mature or 12 immature cannabis plants per qualified patient. However, if a qualified patient or primary caregiver has a doctor’s recommendation that this quantity does not meet the medical needs of the patient, the recommended amount can be possessed.

No marijuana may be smoked, ingested or otherwise consumed on the premises of the dispensary and the commercial sale of marijuana is prohibited. Marijuana cannot be cultivated on site and cannot be distributed by the dispensary for profit.

The ordinance provided no regulation regarding the source of the marijuana, except to say that the distribution center can’t engage in interstate commerce.

The city manager will have access to any dispensary’s books, records and accounts for the purpose of conducting an audit or examination.

Adequate security, as determined and approved by the sheriff, must be maintained at each dispensary and the building in which the dispensary is located must comply with all applicable local, state and federal rules and regulations, including the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The ordinance further spells out the location requirements for the issuance of the permit. The ordinance does not allow a dispensary to be located within 1,000 feet of any residence, school, library, public park or youth-oriented establishment. Additionally, a dispensary cannot be located within 1,000 feet of another dispensary.

Because the city adopted the emergency ordinance, any entity planning to open such a facility would now need to apply for the use permit.

Still outstanding are several issues regarding how the medicinal marijuana will actually be distributed.

Although The Compassionate Use Act of 1996, or Proposition 215, allows for medical marijuana consumption if patients meet specific criteria, consuming marijuana for any reason remains illegal under federal law. At the same time, the Compassionate Use Act prohibits any physician from being punished for having recommended marijuana to a patient for medical purposes. The act prohibits the provisions of law making unlawful the possession or cultivation of marijuana from applying to a patient, or to a patient’s primary caregiver, who possesses or cultivates marijuana for the personal medical purposes of the patient upon the written or oral recommendation or approval of a physician.

The act was written so vaguely, however, that additional legislation was required to further pin down what could and could not be done.

Additional legislation passed last year provides for some guidelines concerning the regulation of medicinal marijuana distribution facilities. The bill, SB 420, requires the state department of health services to establish and maintain a voluntary program for the issuance of identification cards to qualified patients. This requirement has been forwarded to the counties for implementation through each county’s health and human services department.

However, the state is supposed to issue regulations regarding the identification cards and, as of yet, it has not done so.

During the discussion of the ordinance, Councilman Tim Murphy said another option would be to enact a moratorium on dispensaries until the state establishes the proper guidelines for the facilities. City Planner Bruce Baracco said city staff views the ordinance as an enabling ordinance, meaning that it simply allows the city to review dispensary applications.

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