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Supes look to overhaul rules on medical marijuana


Sonoma County supervisors are set to consider a sweeping overhaul of rules governing medical marijuana, changes they say are needed to halt the spread of legal pot retailers and illegal pot gardens across the region and halt a wave of violent crime they claim is linked to the drug.

The changes to be discussed for the first time Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors include a cap on the number of dispensaries that can sell medical marijuana outside city limits. The limit would be set at seven shops, two more than the five that currently operate under the county’s existing rules.

The proposal would also ramp up regulation and law enforcement for medical pot gardens, authorizing work on tighter limits for the location and size of cultivation sites and setting fees that would cover taxpayer costs for patrolling and overseeing medical marijuana operations.

County leaders say the crackdown is necessary to rein in a business — legal or not — that they say has contributed to at least three homicides over the past year. Environmental pollution and neighborhood nuisances are other problems linked to the drug, leaders said.

“We have a substance that is unregulated and untaxed, and we have an ethical responsibility to address public health and safety issues,” said Supervisor Shirlee Zane, one of two board members who helped draw up the recommendations.

Sheriff Steve Freitas, who was consulted for the proposal, cited a link to marijuana in two local homicides in the past 10 days, plus eight home invasion robberies over the past year as reason for his support of the rule changes.

Medical marijuana advocates strongly dispute the link to crime, saying the problem is the illegal pot trade and the morass of laws that authorize medicinal pot use and cultivation in California while banning it on the federal level.

In one Sonoma County courtroom alone Monday there were 17 defendants in cases involving cultivation, possession and transportation of marijuana, a trend that one expert said is common statewide and reflects the difficulty in enforcing conflicting marijuana laws.

The proposal comes less than three weeks after federal authorities announced their resumed crackdown in California on medicinal marijuana, which voters authorized in a 1996 ballot initiative.

It also coincides with similar efforts by other local governments seeking to rein in the spread of both the medical marijuana business and the illegal pot trade.

A recent California appellate court decision could complicate matters for those governments as it throws into legal limbo many of their efforts to permit legal medical pot retailers.

Bill Panzer, an Oakland-based attorney who co-authored the 1996 initiative and represents medical marijuana users and suppliers, said he was surprised the county would move on new regulations amid such uncertainty.

County attorneys said they were aware of the decision and were watching the case, which could go to the state Supreme Court.

Several local medical marijuana providers, meanwhile, said they welcomed Sonoma County’s proposed cap, citing other cities and counties where such limits have provided greater certainty for nonprofit organizations authorized to sell the drug.

“The real enemy that we have in this whole issue right now is the ambiguity in the law,” said Robert Jacob, executive director of Peace in Medicine Healing Center, which operates a pair of dispensaries in Santa Rosa and Sebastopol. The nonprofit is not governed by the county rules, which apply only to unincorporated areas.

Representatives of four county-overseen marijuana dispensaries declined to comment Monday on the proposed rules.

The manager of a cooperative outside Guerneville acknowledged the cap could be an economic boon for already established clinics.

“We’ll just sit back and cross our fingers and hope that it works to our advantage,” said the woman, who said she managed the Riverside Wellness cooperative on River Road and would only give her first name, Jackie.

Other advocates said they were concerned that tougher regulations could price out smaller operators through fees and overly burdensome standards, leaving existing suppliers with an ever-centralizing monopoly.

Supervisors stressed that patients’ access to medical marijuana would not be constrained under the new rules.

At present, four suppliers are in line for the two additional county permits that would be available under the new rules. The applicant list includes Riverside Wellness, which is currently open on a conditional basis.

Four dispensaries are also located in the cities of Santa Rosa, Sebastopol and Cotati, all of which have instituted caps. All other local cities have either banned or otherwise prohibited dispensaries.

Zane said the resulting number is sufficient to serve the area. “How many dispensaries do you need to supply one drug?” she said.

But one medical marijuana patient interviewed Monday outside a county-permitted pot dispensary in Guerneville said he was concerned a cap could limit his choice of supplier.

J.C. Floming, 57, of Santa Rosa, said he relies on a few specific strains of cannabis to soothe his back pain and ailments related to Hepatitis-C.

Floming said he belongs to Marvin’s Gardens, the Guerne-ville dispensary, Organicann outside Santa Rosa, and others in Mendocino County so that he can always get the kind he prefers.

“Sometimes I can’t get my brand of medicine at one, so I go to the other,” Floming said. “I want to be able to get what works for me.”

The proposed changes would be to a 2006 ordinance that several county leaders said is now ineffective in regulating the medical pot business.

It set standards for location and operation of dispensaries and size and possession limits for medical marijuana cultivators. But it did not set a cap on dispensaries or establish targeted regulations and fees for growers, a decision that one supervisor called “shortsighted.”

“We are in a very different ballgame,” said Supervisor Valerie Brown, the only member of the current board who was serving at the time.

Brown, who worked with Zane to craft Tuesday’s proposal, cited cases of illegal building, electrical, water and pesticide use found on marijuana farms throughout the county.

Most turn out to be illegal operations, Freitas said. Of the 165 sites reported to his office this year, 63 of the 65 investigated were illegal, he said.

In crimes investigated by his office, there is little difference between medical marijuana and illegal pot, he added.

“Quite frankly, the lines are so blurred it’s hard to tell,” he said.

An informal vote by the supervisors Tuesday could authorize two phases of work: one on the dispensary cap, which could return to the board within 120 days, and another on the regulation and enforcement of medical pot gardens, which could come back in six to eight months. Both efforts would first come through the county Planning Commission.

Total cost of the work is estimated at up to $250,000, an amount that officials said could later be recouped through fees charged to medical marijuana suppliers.

Staff Writers Julie Johnson and Paul Payne contributed to this story.

15 Responses to “Supes look to overhaul rules on medical marijuana”

  1. Steveguy says:

    Did anyone notice the $250,000 cost for the ‘study’ and how they plan to re-coup the cost by selling permits ?

    Meanwhile, hundreds of hundreds of pounds of weed is being shipped.

    The Feds are sissys, and are going after those that have a business card, instead of an AK-47. Sissy cops.

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  2. RAW says:

    You need to be careful with your selling of the issue. It was sold as a necessary aid to the seriously ill. As soon as it passed, people were laughing about the reasons they gave to get their “prescription card”. One was an 18 year old with strained muscles from intercourse. Another was a person with sore feet. All that did was show that the average voter was duped, just like the SMART train. Bait and switch. Voters know they were had and now the killings surrounding pot are increasing with the harvest. The rest of the country is not going to legalize pot. They are still shaking their heads at California for everything from legalizing pot to outlawing certain types of guns. The reasons don’t hold water, but California still does it anyways. I overheard a lady saying she had to pay $600 for 2 ounces of her medicine for her glaucoma, sounded like a rip off of one of the real patients. For those prices, there is always going to be a black market for the stuff. People forget that the ones selling it are still drug dealers, not pharmacists. I have heard rumor the clinics sell other drugs besides pot, but I neither know about it nor care about it. Crime is crime. Maybe the feds will come in un-do the California voter fraud issue for California. At least someone was paying attention.

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  3. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    I want to add that I have a friend who has pancreatic cancer and uses regularly. The pain in terrific and marijuana cuts the anxiety surrounding the pain. It also helps the nausea that causes severe weightloss affecting his overall health.

    I have another friend with glaucoma. Smoking marijuana reduces the pressure in her eyeballs, reduces the headaches she gets, and helps keep her vision.

    This isn’t a placebo affect people regardless of what the US government says. There is a drug called Marinol which is basicly marijuana in a pill form. The problem is that it isn’t very effective in this form. If it weren’t medicinal WHY WOULD THIS DRUG EXIST?

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  4. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    The Hammer-the reason for the homicides are the ILLEGAL POT GROWERS in the woods polluting the environment and the smugglers busy protecting their crops. If marijuana were legal throughout the United States and grown LEGALLY then all that crime will go away. Regulate it like alcohol. The price will go down and won’t make it so attractive to grow. It would be FARMED legally like other farmed products. Our enforcement people can concentrate on other serious drug violators.

    Mendocino County has few jobs and unemployment has always been a problem. Lots of growers up there and they would have to pay taxes just like the rest of us.

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  5. All They Ask says:

    Out of the blue haze rode the gallant 5 to save the pot growing community in Sonoma County. These brave warriors will save the needed pot for “medicinal” purposes, eliminate competition, raise revenues through taxes, impose govenment regulations on the sellers and growers and make the world safe for pot growing once again.

    Then they will ride off again to solve more of the counties troubles like making the place a bigger magnet for illegal aliens. Maybe they can figure out a way to regulate and tax illegals. But that is asking too much of these brave warriors.

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  6. Really Big Fish says:

    Along with the SMART train, more pot retail stores(medical issue is 99% a joke), more wine bars and illegal aliens using “politico payment cards” Sonoma County is doing down hill faster than the country. I’m sure all the supervisors are proud of themselves. Unfortunately environmentalism and liberalism when mixed with money is an incurable disease. I feel sorry for the counties children.

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  7. The Hammer says:

    Please…………Please, tell me where on this planet this crap is legal. Nowhere, absolutely nowhere. Anyone using is violating the law, period.

    “County leaders say the crackdown is necessary to rein in a business — legal or not — that they say has contributed to at least three homicides over the past year. Environmental pollution and neighborhood nuisances are other problems linked to the drug, leaders said.” You didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to know this was coming.

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  8. Social Dis-Ease says:

    To Steve K.: that’s the whole idea.
    Real ‘em in and drop ‘em.
    Just like the housing crises.
    So many ways to impoverish,
    so little time.
    Agenda 21′s the name.
    Damaging us is their game.

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  9. DeeDee says:

    Here’s a real life story. My mom just passed last week. It was peaceful, in her home surrounded by family, the way she wanted to go. She was 85.

    For the last five years she has been a pothead. Her special cookies held her arthritis at bay enough for to go to the Y for her old lady’s pool exercise. They helped her sleep at night. I talked to her doctor at Kaiser about it. He allowed that as it only affects the brain, it did not interfere with any of the other 20 or so medications she was taking and that the same could not be said for the pain medication they had prescribed for her.

    Under LA’s new dispensaries regulation, the storefront that she used is slated to be closed.

    If there is a problem with crime go after it. Stop indoor grows from trashing someone else property or stealing electricity. But let the sick people have their medications.

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  10. Steve Klausner says:

    Job Killers! The only thriving industry in Sonoma County and they’re going to mess it up.

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  11. Average Joe says:

    About time!

    I see hoards of SRJC parking permits in the parking lot of the near by dispensary. You would think they would be smart enough to take them of the rear view mirror.

    I even saw some younger kids asking the “patients” if they could get some “medicine” for them out in the far corner of the parking lot.

    No problems here……

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  12. Where is the Justice says:

    Overhaul the rules? Follow the rules and enforce the rules.

    Come out of the blue haze that is county govrnment. Marijuana is illegal here in the good old USA and so said the feds.

    Enforce the laws of this land. Ban the weed and spray the users with the knowledge of law enlightenment.

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  13. Not Logical says:

    “Other advocates said they were concerned that tougher regulations could price out smaller operators through fees and overly burdensome standards, leaving existing suppliers with an ever-centralizing monopoly.”
    “illegal pot gardens across the region and halt a wave of violent crime they claim is linked to the drug.”

    Lets See if you make it harder to get and more expensive logic would be that you will have MORE illegal pot gardens and MORE violent crime.

    Our Sonoma County supervisors Need to make it legal and tax it and then most problems will Go away.

    But then again, expecting them to think things Thur is asking to much.

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  14. Jim says:

    It is hilarious that people thought “medicinal” marijuana would actually be used for “medicinal” purposes. Anyone can get a ‘prescription’ for it by paying a fee to a ‘doctor’.

    You want pot? All you have to do is claim “anxiety” and a doctor prescribes it. It is any wonder why the youth are incapable of competing in the world?

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  15. Pearl Alquileres says:

    …hurry, someone close the barn door!

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