ASA Weekly Alert 1-30-2009

1. Thanks to Activist Opposition, LA Planning Committee Puts Off Dispensary Vote

This week, the Los Angeles City Council's Planning Committee delayed a decision on a new medical cannabis ordinance that would have regulated dispensing collectives operating in city limits. The draft ordinance would have created a number of new restrictions, including requiring each member of a dispensing collective to provide their personal information to the LA City Clerk's office.  It would have regulated security systems, and required dispensing collectives to store cannabis in a locked vault or safe, and would also have prohibited the sale of edible cannabis products. Concern expressed by advocates, patients, and Councilman Dennis Zine, who said that the new regulations would end up shutting down many of the city's currently operating dispensing collectives. Major criticisms were voiced with the regulation process, as the proposed ordinance was not disclosed to the community until just hours before the meeting.  In addition, the city attorney's office did not included a single one of the suggestions put forward by the patients and activists who participated in a working group for more than a year.  It was these considerations that contributed to the council's decision to delay action on the regulations. Pay close attention to this issue if you live in the LA area, as it has critical implications for the future of LA dispensaries. For more information, visit ASA's site to read the AG Guidelines, as well as ASA's report on what they mean for dispensing collectives.

2. San Francisco Supervisors to Consider New Regulations

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a proposal brought forth by SF Mayor Gavin Newsom that enacted regulations  requiring operators of medical cannabis dispensing collectives to hand over financial records, to keep detailed information of members, and tighten the requirements for operating as nonprofit or not-for-profit establishments. Newsom's proposal to tighten dispensary restrictions comes on the back of guidelines released by California Attorney General Jerry Brown, intended to inform law enforcement and the suggested best practices of the dispensing collectives. Although Newsom claimed his proposal seeks to protect clinics from DEA raids, federal authorities have shown little rhyme or reason in their selection of dispensaries.  ASA finds increasing evidence that local law enforcement often plays a leading role in calling in federal agents to raid collectives who are compliant, in an attempt to circumvent local laws. The ordinance requiring dispensing collectives to keep membership records came on the heels of an abandoned proposal that would have had medical cannabis clinics keep a list of names and address of patient members.  The keeping of personal information ignited outrage among advocates. Newsom's proposal offers specific requirements in dispensing collectives which operate "not for profit" and, when requested by city health officials, provide financial records. Nine medical dispensaries have received city permits to operate and 14 others are going through the permitting process, according to the Department of Public Health.

3. Fort Bragg Enacts New Cultivation Limits

The Fort Bragg City Council voted unanimously this week on an ordinance to restrict medical cannabis cultivation. The ordinance, which has been in the works since July of last year, prohibits outdoor growing, making medical grade cannabis growth cost prohibitive to those low income patients who cannot afford expensive indoor lighting and growing systems.  It also limits indoor grows to 50 square feet or 250 cubic feet per residential unit, though permits costing about $600 would be required to increase that amount to 100 square feet or a maximum of 500 cubic feet. The ordinance also requires a special permit for cultivation in multi-family units, and prohibits growing medical cannabis  for money and cultivating near schools or parks. In addition, cultivation will be allowed only in certain zones; particularly suburban residential, low density residential and medium density residential zoning districts. A permit would be required to grow in city and high-density districts.   Noncompliance with the ordinance could result in a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to six months in jail. Fort Bragg does not recognize collectives and cooperatives as a legal entities, which is one reason that advocates have expressed concern that the regulations are in violation of California's Compassionate Use Act. At the end of the hearing, council members included language that stating the city does not intend to conflict with the federal controlled substances act or the Compassionate Use Act, though it may certainly do the latter.