Counties, Cities Act to Regulate Cannabis Dispensaries

(Cal NORML Newsletter Dec 2004 updated Feb 2005)

More and more communities are passing legislation to deal with the growing number of medical cannabis dispensaries in California.

Over 120 dispensaries, patientsı coops and delivery services are now listed on the California NORML website (/prop/cbclist.html), double the number a year ago. Among them are several new groups in previously under-served Southern California cities, including San Diego, Long Beach, and West Hollywood. West Hollywood has become a center for patients in the LA area, with half a dozen dispensaries now in operation.

Another cluster of clubs has cropped up in unincorporated Alameda County south of Oakland, following the cityıs closure of several dispensaries in the "Oaksterdam" district. The Alameda Board of Supervisors responded with a moratorium on new clubs following protests from local neighborhood groups, who were shocked to discover that seven dispensaries had opened up in their area. The Board is considering further legislation to regulate and limit clubs in the county following the example of nearby cities such as Hayward, Oakland, and Berkeley. California NORML is supporting Alameda County medical cannabis activists in opposing draconian restrictions proposed by the sheriff, such as banning sales of refreshments, cannabis edibles, and paraphernalia, banning on-site consumption, and requiring employee drug testing.

Santa Rosa is also considering regulating cannabis clubs. City officials are strongly supportive of medical cannabis, but concerned by a recent spurt of dispensaries. "They see lots of young men going into these places, and donıt know what to do," said a local patient advocate.

Several cities and counties around the state have moved to pass ordinances in response to applications from would-be dispensary operators. Some towns, including Davis, Willits, Fremont, Dixon and Rancho Cordova have passed moratoriums prohibiting the opening of dispensaries pending further study by city officials. Others, including Citrus Heights, Elk Grove, Roseville, Plymouth and Auburn have passed ordinances explicitly regulating them.

San Leandro enacted a preventative moratorium aimed at warding off the flood of clubs from nearby Hayward and Alameda County.

Sacramento County enacted a temporary ban on opening of new dispensaries while it contemplates drafting rules. At least one dispensary is already operating in the county.

The Calaveras County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to permit a dispensary. However, Sheriff Downum has threatened to shut it with help from the DEA.

In Riverside County, Temecula moved to ban dispensaries after receiving an application inquiry from Compassionate Caregivers, which operates dispensaries at a half dozen locations around in the state.

Many communities are proceeding cautiously due to continuing uncertainty over the legal status of marijuana. Placerville approved a permit for the cityıs first cannabis dispensary, but only on condition that the federal government permit use of the drug. In a similar vein, the San Luis Obispo City Council voted to impose a moratorium until the Supreme Court announces its decision in Raich. Other towns in the area, including Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach, and Santa Maria have been considering similar action.

If the Supreme Court rules against Raich, it can be expected that fewer communities will be willing to embrace dispensaries. Regardless of the courtıs decision, however, the fact remains that over-the-counter sale of marijuana to Prop. 215 patients remains illegal under state law. Under SB 420, only legally designated "primary caregivers" may receive money for their services, and then not for profit. Those dispensaries that do operate in California do so purely on tolerance of local authorities.

Nevertheless, many cities and counties remain confused about the law. Some assume incorrectly that they are obliged to accommodate dispensaries, while others feel free to ban them entirely. Others have failed to recognize the distinction between dispensaries, which sell medical cannabis on a retail basis, and cooperatives or collective gardens, in which patients share the crop amongst themselves. While the former are not authorized by state law, the latter are explicitly encouraged under SB 420.

This has become an issue in Fresno, which passed an emergency ordinance prohibiting medical marijuana facilities that serve more than two patients. A Fresno patient, James Mitchell, who grows for two dozen friends, has objected that the ordinance should not apply to his activities, since he is operating a collective garden. The council is working on another ordinance to regulate where medical marijuana can be grown in the city.

The siting of medical cannabis gardens has also become an issue in cannabis-friendly Mendocino County. In Ukiah, residents have complained about the skunky odor emanating from the cityıs many residential marijuana gardens. In addition, police have noted a spate of marijuana-related thefts and robberies. Addressing the issue as a nuisance problem, the city is considering an ordinance to limit the number of outdoor plants patients can grow to three. Willits is considering a similar ordinance.

In response to innumerable requests, California NORML has posted a guide for prospective medical cannabis providers.

Feb. 2005

CA NORML 2261 Market St. #278A San Francisco CA 94114