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First Permitted Medical Marijuana Coop to Open in San Diego County Unincorporated Area
By: Eugene Davidovich
Mother Earth’s Alternative Healing Cooperative Inc, the first medical marijuana dispensing center officially permitted by San Diego County and in full compliance with the County Ordinance adopted almost a year ago, will open its doors in July 2011.
In order to truly grasp the importance and magnitude of the first permitted Coop opening in San Diego County and what this means for the safe access community, it is important to understand the background and history leading up to this day.
The San Diego County Board of Supervisors is made up of five elected officials all of whom have been in office for almost two decades and have uniformly been opposed to medical marijuana. The Supervisors’ opposition has not been all ideological. In fact, they have continued to ignore and refuse to implement any provisions of the State’s medical marijuana laws for years.
On February 1, 2006 after receiving multiple threats of lawsuits from the San Diego chapter of NORML for refusing to implement the state mandated Medical Marijuana Identification Card Program, the County Board of Supervisors (BOS) filed suit against the State challenging the law requiring them to issue the cards. The BOS claimed federal law prohibiting marijuana, preempted California’s requirement to implement the card program and if the County complied, they would be doing so in violation of Federal law.
In July of 2006, Americans for Safe Access (ASA) along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Drug Reform Law Project (DLRP), and the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) intervened in the civil lawsuit.
In the case now titled, County of San Diego v. San Diego NORML, ASA argued State law is not preempted by Federal law and that the County of San Diego was required to comply. Attorneys for ASA and the ACLU presented their arguments in San Diego Superior Court on November 16, 2006. Within a month in December of that year, Judge William R. Nevitt Jr. issued a decision rejecting the County’s challenge, siding with patients, and confirming California’s medical marijuana laws.
Despite the clear decision issued by Judge Nevitt, the BOS pressed on with their attempt to overturn State law and appealed the decision to the Fourth District Appellate Court, which on July 31, 2008 agreed with Judge Nevitt and denied the County’s challenge.
The BOS remained undeterred and County Counsel was directed to press on with the case to the California Supreme Court, which on October 16, 2008 also denied the county’s petition for review.
In a last ditch effort, the BOS filed a final appeal to the US Supreme Court and received their final denial on May 26, 2009. At this point the county had no choice but to start issuing ID cards.
Patients and medical marijuana advocates across the county celebrated this victory and were convinced the US Supreme Court’s decision would bring an end to the Supervisors’ war on the State’s medical marijuana laws.
In light of the Supreme Court’s decision and by this time, the new administration’s promise to stop raiding patients in compliance with State law, dispensaries began to open in the County.
True to their track record, the Supervisors did not give up on their bias driven fight. They shifted gears from focusing on the ID card program to targeting patients and their access directly.
On August 5, 2009 less than three months after the Supreme Court Decision, the BOS adopted an interim urgency ordinance enacting a moratorium on the establishment of medical marijuana facilities in the unincorporated areas of the County. This moratorium wrote into law a temporary prohibition on dispensaries in the County’s unincorporated areas.
In the meantime the BOS decided to deal with the already open dispensaries by allowing San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and the Narcotics Task Force on September 9, 2009 to conduct swat style raids on over 14 facilities operating within the County.
During the year long moratorium the BOS was intent on adopting an outright ban until their own legal counsel told them a ban may not be constitutional. To avoid another embarrassing loss in court, the BOS instead of enacting an outright ban, directed staff to craft a severely restrictive land use and public safety ordinance that would serve to accomplish the same goal.
On June 23, 2010 the BOS adopted their restrictive ordinance against the pleas of patients and advocates as well as a threatening letter from the ACLU.
The new ordinance allows Coops to open only if they are located in an industrial zone and are 1,000 feet away from the most comprehensive laundry list of sensitive uses ever created in the history of San Diego County zoning. The list includes: parks, churches, residences, schools, libraries, youth service facilities, other dispensaries, etc.
Leading up to the vote, a number of land use experts conducted an analysis of the zoning requirements in the ordinance and all reached the same conclusion; the majority of the ‘compliant’ properties were undeveloped and the remaining few made it practically impossible for facilities to quickly open. The chances of someone actually finding a property that met all the requirements were slim to none.
Patients and advocates were convinced the ordinance would ultimately result in no access in the County and following the passage of the new ordinance, San Diego ASA announced it as a de-facto ban.
Although the overly restrictive ordinance passed, patients still did not give up their struggle for safe access and many attempted to comply with the new rules.
A year later, only one Coop has been able to meet all the requirements. Situated in a 15,000 sq. ft. commercial building in an industrial zone next to Gillespie Field, once all construction is completed, the coop will include a small on-site cultivation area, a dispensing center, as well as a state of the art testing facility where all medicine prior to being dispensed to patients will go through on-site gas chromatography and mold/pesticide testing.
While some of the medicine will come from on-site cultivation, the majority as required by law will be cultivated by members at their homes and may go through an inspection by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
Detective Helms, one of the San Diego County Deputy Sheriffs in charge of licensing will conduct inspections, the purpose of which will be to insure patient cultivators are growing in a safe manner and with proper safeguards. If a problem is found during the inspection, Detective Helms will issue a notice to correct the violations and will re-inspect within 30 days.
Member cultivators may have no more than 6 mature and 12 immature plants per patient. If two patients are living together (i.e. married couple) and both have their recommendations and county cards, then they may posses 12 mature and 24 immature plants.
For those member cultivators whose conditions or the way they consume their medication require more than six and twelve plants, their physician recommendations will need to specify the amount of plants reasonable for their condition.
Source agreements issued by the coop will be kept with the plants as well as at the coop. The agreement will contain a phone number for a contact at the Sheriff’s Department in case any law enforcement encounter the cultivation effort and need to verify the legality of the source agreement.
“We have seen nothing but support and help from Detective Helms, Detective Hunting and others in licensing. While going through this process everyone has been focused on finally bringing safe access to San Diego County” said Bob Riedel, official spokesperson for the coop.
According to Bob, aside from creating a safe place for patients to obtain their medicine, the coop will be politically active in the community through support of Americans for Safe Access including providing a space for East County ASA meetings, financial support for the national organization, as well as support for other charities and local political efforts.
For more information or questions contact Bob Riedel at: [email protected]
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