By STEVE HART
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County has lost a bid to shut down a medical marijuana dispensary on the eastern outskirts of Santa Rosa, where it has been operating for months without a permit.
A judge ruled earlier this month that Valley of the Moon Collective can stay open while it seeks a county permit.
But county planners are recommending against a permit for the pot club, saying it’s too close to homes and a martial arts studio that serves about 60 children. Under terms of a March 3 court order, the dispensary must shut its doors if it can’t get a permit.
A hearing is scheduled April 28 in Santa Rosa before the county Board of Zoning Adjustments.
Supporters are circulating a petition asking that the dispensary be allowed to stay. But some neighbors oppose the business, saying it doesn’t fit in the semi-rural location.
The nonprofit marijuana dispensary opened last September in Valley of the Moon Plaza, a small retail center at Highway 12 and Melita Road, between the Skyhawk and Oakmont subdivisions. It is located in county territory just outside Santa Rosa’s city limits.
The cooperative is made up of local patients, said Scot Candell, a San Rafael attorney who represents Valley of the Moon Collective.
Its website said the group “is committed to providing natural alternative medicines in a physically safe and socially responsible manner, following all state and local laws.”
Another online directory shows it offers different varieties of marijuana with names such as “Headband,” “Trainwreck,” “Purple Hammer,” “Mendo Madness,” “Twinkie” and “Grape Ape.”
Staff members who declined to give their names said Monday it serves many elderly patients, including people from the nearby Oakmont and Spring Lake Village retirement communities. They said there haven’t been any problems since it opened last fall.
But a medical marijuana dispensary doesn’t belong in the same building as a martial arts studio that caters to children, said Monica Miramontez, who owns Miramontez Family Taekwondo & Fitness Center, three doors down from the collective. About 60 children take her classes, she said.
“Parents aren’t comfortable letting their kids walk around here,” said Miramontez.
Miramontez, who has operated the studio for 8 years, said she can’t afford to move. The commercial center also has a dry cleaner, frame shop, gas station and convenience store.
Sonoma County filed suit against the dispensary in February, following a complaint and inspection by a code enforcement officer. The business doesn’t have a permit and is in violation of zoning laws, the county said.
The collective responded that it tried to obtain a use permit but was told none were available because the county’s medical marijuana ordinance had been struck down by the courts.
Candell said the dispensary was following state law and guidelines from the state Attorney General’s office.
The county’s medical marijuana ordinance has since been upheld and the collective applied for a permit.
Superior Court Judge Rene Chouteau ruled the collective can stay open until the county acts on its application.
In a letter last month to the collective, county planner Steve Padovan said his department will recommend denial because the location doesn’t meet county standards.
Under the rules, marijuana dispensaries can’t be within 100 feet of homes or within 1,000 feet of a facility that primarily serves people under age 18.