The case against granting a minor use permit allowing a marijuana dispensary in Nipomo is a relartively easy one to make, and is premised on hard, uncontrovertable, and uncomfortable facts, based on current and past experiences of other local communities, both within and without our county. The Santa Maria Times ran a series of articles about such dispensaries in Santa Barbara County.On 01/18/10 the Times ran an article entitled Medicine or Menace:
When California voters legalized the medicinal use of marijuana in 1996, it forced city and county governments to decide whether they would allow the establishment of medical-marijuana dispensaries within their borders.
Santa Barbara has a city ordinance that allows and regulates such dispensaries, but all other cities in the county have “just said no.”
This is a striking statistic. Even though voters state wide approved the use of medicinal marijuana, only one city (Santa Barbara) in all of Santa Barbara County, just to the south has opted to allow the dispensaries. This means there are absolutely no cities which allow such dispensaries in all of northern Santa Barbara County, including Santa Maria, only seven miles south of Nipomo, Guadalupe, Lompoc, and Buellton. There are currently no marijuana dispensaries in all of San Luis Obispo County, which means if a dispensary actually opened in Nipomo, so called patients from San Simeon to the north and Lompoc to the south would come streaming into Nipomo.
Santa Barbara County, however, has no law to prohibit or regulate “pot clinics” in unincorporated areas, and a public outrcy was raised recently when rumors circulated of attempts to open one in Santa Ynez or Los Olivos.
After speakers in the audience at a December meeting demanded a ban, the Board of Supervisors asked county staff members to bring back an ordinance Jan. 19 to place a temporary moratorium on medical-marijuana clinics.
That should allow ample time to review the issue and find a solution, perhaps involving changes in the county’s land-use ordinances, said 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr, who represents the Santa Ynez Valley.
“We are currently working on options to come back to the supervisors for a temporary moratorium and potential ban,” said Dianne Black, director of development for county planning and development. “We are taking a look at what other local jurisdictions and other counties have done.”
County staff is gathering enough information to support a temporary moratorium, which could last as long as a year, while they research how to further regulate dispensaries, Black continued.
“All of a sudden the proliferation of dispensaries has alarmed a lot of people. It only takes a few not doing the right thing to cause some problems,” Farr said.
“I share the same concerns by my fellow board members and the community. Medical marijuana was an initiative passed by voters to use for medical uses, however the problem is in the dispensing of it. The initiative didn’t go far enough to get a handle on it, and that’s what we have to look at in the land-use ordinance,” Farr added.
Santa Barbara County, unlike San Luis Obispo County, doesn’t even have an ordinance in place to deal with the dispensaries; however, they clearly are in no hurry to have them proliferate throughout the county. In fact they are immediately implementing a moratorium with an eye towards a complete ban. No community wants to be the test case for allowing marijuana to be sold at a specific location within its jurisdictional boundaries. Nipomo should be no different.
Santa Barbara’s city ordinance specifies areas of the city in which pot clinics are permitted, in addition to setting rules on their operation.
The Compassionate Use Act of 1996, which became Section 11362.5 of the California Health and Safety Code, says that “seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes” as long as they have a doctor’s prescription, and says doctors can’t be punished for prescribing it.
But it makes no rules for obtaining pot or establishing dispensaries.
Instead, it says the act is “to encourage the federal and state governments to implement a plan to provide for the safe and affordable distribution of marijuana to all patients in medical need of marijuana.”
This is ridiculious. This act is not going to encourage federal and state governmemnts to implement any such plan. Rather it opens the door for those wanting to experiment with these dispensaries in communities which clearly do not want them.
Preservation of Los Olivos (POLO) organized a community meeting this winter to advocate a county ban on pot clinics.
The Coalition to Promote Drug Free Youth, a volunteer group based in Solvang, also supports a ban. It contends that marijuana is addictive, and that allowing medical marijuana dispensaries would give young people more access to the drug.
“Limiting access to alcohol, marijuana, tobacco for our youth would reduce underage substance abuse,” said Mary Conway of the coalition.
Farr said medical marijuana can provide relief for some extremely sick people when no other medicine works for them, but that issue is between patients and their doctors.
“One man who spoke at the last meeting said using marijuana was the only source of relief for his mother, who has terminal cancer, which I understand, so we will need time to examine the proper solution,” Farr said.
At the supervisors’ meeting in December, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said medical marijuana dispensaries themselves are attractive targets for criminals because they are seen as a soft target with drugs and money on the premises.
However, when asked to provide statistics on crime involving legal dispensaries in Santa Barbara County, the sheriff declined to comment, and sheriff’s spokesman Drew Sugars said the county had none.
“In terms of law enforcement, we are waiting until the Board of Supervisors makes their final decision,” said Sugars said.
A Santa Barbara Police Department spokesman said the city’s one dispensary that is legally operating under the latest version of its ordinance has not been associated with any crimes.
However, a dispensary called Humanity at 715 Bond Ave., which had permission to operate while it upgraded its operation to fit the new ordinance, was shut down after police officers served seven search warrants Jan. 7 at the business and the homes of six employees in Santa Ynez, Santa Barbara, Goleta, Lompoc and Santa Maria.
According to the Santa Barbara Police Department, an undercover investigation revealed that Humanity sold marijuana to a person who presented a counterfeit medical marijuana recommendation, and his identification was never checked and the medical marijuana recommendation never verified.
Illegal dispensaries have also been shut down in various places, including one in Buellton in 2007 and another in Santa Barbara in April 2009.
Unless the county adopts new regulations, a marijuana dispensary could open, without any special permits, in any building that is zoned for retail commercial use, according to Kim Probert of the county planning department.
The Board of Supervisors meeting begins at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19, in the Board Hearing Room of the county Administration Building Board at 105 E. Anapamu St. in Santa Barbara. The meeting will also be broadcast live on government access cable channels.
There is good reason why communities don’t want these pot dispensaries. Morro Bay’s recent example in our own county provides ample guidance and reasons for Nipomo to reject this proposed pot clinic. Time Magazine’s article on Charles Lynch’s conviction on federal charges for running a Morro Bay clinic recaps the prosecution’s case:
The prosecution paints a more complex picture, contending that Lynch’s operation was pervaded by marijuana transactions outside the store by his employees and customers; they claim evidence shows that, though Lynch may not have known of such transactions, “the atmosphere and example that defendant set, and that his employees and customers followed, was not one of strict compliance with the law but rather a casual, almost carnival-like attitude toward the use and distribution of marijuana.” One of the most serious federal charges leveled against Lynch was that he sold the drug to more than 250 minors, which is defined as under 18 under state law and under 21 under federal laws.
The potential for abuse begins before the dispensary door. Just last week, Cal Coast News ran an article about a local doctor accused of running a marijuana mill:
Former co-workers are accusing Dr. Atsuko Rees, a physician at HealthWorks in San Luis Obispo until July 2009, of writing medical marijuana recommendations for almost anyone who asked, while not claiming the bulk of payments for the visits as income.
The allegations come as medical officials across the country are asking if a small number of doctors are responsible for authorizing the vast majority of medical marijuana cards — possibly abusing a law meant to help patients with chronic health problems. These few doctors, many known for spending five to ten minutes with patients before diagnosing them with a chronic illness, are said to be practicing sub-standard medical care as they rake in between $150 to $250 for each diagnosis.
HealthWorks employees allege that Dr. Rees, a former co-owner of HealthWorks who now practices at Rees Family Medical on Higuera Street in San Luis Obispo, would see as many as 60 to 70 patients on so-called “Marijuana Fridays” when she practiced at HealthWorks. Both Dr. Rees and Mary Eanes, a physician’s assistant Dr. Rees continues to work with, would approve patients’ medical marijuana status. However, to comply with California law, Dr. Rees would sign off on patients as if she had seen each patient personally, former co-workers said.
Neither Dr. Rees nor Eanes returned numerous phone calls asking for comment. However, a call to their office confirmed the group is continuing to issue medical marijuana cards.
Even though Dr. Rees saw patients of all ages at HealthWorks, the bulk of her marijuana card clients fell between the ages of 15 and 25, with a large number visiting the clinic on, or within days of, their 18th birthday.
Medical marijuana patients under age 18 must have a parent present when seeing a doctor or visiting a dispensary, according to California law. Nevertheless, Dr. Rees gave a medical marijuana recommendation to a 15-year-old Nipomo boy who walked into the clinic complaining of headaches. He provided a note from his mother that said he could seek medical care without an accompanying parent.
More and more people are questioning the abuses which seem to be cropping up surrounding these dispensaries. Opening a pot dispensary in Nipomo is inviting questionably “chronically” ill patients from two counties to descend into our tight knit, family oriented community to get their daily or weekly fix–such as the case may be.
The Santa Maria Times ran still another article on Santa Barabara’s current moratorium on pot clinics while the city council looks at their regulations:
Santa Barbara has three medical-marijuana dispensaries operating legally inside the city limits with more on the way, but has been working for six months on possible changes to its rules, city officials said.
The other seven cities in Santa Barbara County, and many others in Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties, have decided to prohibit pot dispensaries.
The debate about revising the city’s ordinance is under scrutiny not only by elected officials but by the public as well, said Capt.. Armando Martel of the Santa Barbara Police Department.
“It could take them (the City Council) several months to finalize the ordinance because there are many factors to look at, like meeting state law and how to actually apply it. The parameters are set to hold people accountable,” he added.
Notable again is the fact seven cities in Santa Barbara County, several in San Luis Obispo County and even as far away as Ventura County simply don’t allow these pot dispensaries. There seem to be very good reasons. And, it should give Nipomo residents pause about whether they want to welcome with open arms, two strangers to this community, who without so much as a business plan or model, hope to throw caution to the wind, open the doors and make a mint. Why? Because they would have the only “legal” pot dispensary in two counties.
Martel is a member of the city’s Medical Cannabis Dispensary Ordinance Committee, which has recommended that the City Council limit the number of dispensaries to seven, impose more security requirements, keep dispensaries farther away from schools and parks, and clarify the consequences for operating illegal dispensaries.
Meanwhile, all new applications have been frozen.
Four dispensaries that were operating inside the city limits before the City Council passed its first ordinance in March 2008 were declared “nonconforming,” according to planning staff members. Three of them were issued “cease and desist” orders and one has been allowed to continue operation while its operators get fully into compliance with the ordinance.
Four pot clinics within the last two years have already been declared non-conforming. Yet, the current Nipomo applicants assure our community that they would have no such problems, because of their anticipated strict adherence to state and federal law. Never mind that neither of the applicants have ever had one day experience in running such pot dispensaries in the past and have absolutely no ties to the Nipomo community. Yet, they would not fall prey to the pitfalls which have closed several other clinics in the past. Sound too good to believe?
Five more dispensaries have also received permits under the city’s new ordinance, and two of those have opened, according to the planning department. If the other three open, it would bring the city’s total to six dispensaries.
The city received additional applications, but in July the council put those on “hold” and declared a moratorium on any further applications until the advisory committee could make recommendations and the City Council could adopt ordinance revisions.
The moratorium will extend until March 24, 2011, unless the City Council decides to end it sooner. The council has not established a date to discuss the ordinance revisions, according to Senior Planner Danny Kato.
If the City Council changes the ordinance, legal dispensaries will be given time to catch up with the new rules, Martel said.
Some illegal dispensaries have been identified through public complaints. Martel said his department routinely checks addresses of alleged illegal dispensaries, and his investigators more than often come back empty-handed.
He would not divulge how his investigators look into complaints out of concern for officers’ safety, but he said the department is paying attention to all dispensaries in the city, both legal and illegal.
An illegal dispensary, called Humanity, was shut down after police officers served seven search warrants Jan. 7 in Santa Ynez, Santa Barbara, Goleta, Lompoc and Santa Maria, Lt. Paul McCaffrey said.
Humanity had been shut down by the City Attorney’s office more than a year ago, but it reopened without a permit, Kato said.
Under the ordinance there are no criminal penalties but the city attorney’s office has the power to fine the operators of illegal dispensaries and issue cease and desist orders, Kato said.
“A lot of these places are doing business as something else, or they may have been a dispensary once, but not now. We really look at the law and what’s being done in case law. This past year was redefined in regards to medical marijuana as cases go through the court system,” Martel said.
The evidence is overwhelming that communities at least along the Central Coast do not want these dispensaries in their jurisdictions. Moratoriums are in place or being considered in the vast majority of our local neighboring communities, including all of Santa Barbara County, most cities in that county, and many in our own. Not only is there potential for abuse, but the evidence establishes that there is and has been actual abuse. Nipomo does not need or want the legal, social, and practical problems a local marijuana dispensary would bring to our community.
Update 01/19/10 7:30 a.m.
I found a couple more links of interest.
Even Los Angeles is stepping up efforts to prosecute some marijuana dispensaries, despite the relaxed Department of Justice guidelines:
LOS ANGELES — There are more marijuana stores here than public schools. Signs emblazoned with cannabis plants or green crosses sit next to dry cleaners, gas stations and restaurants.
Cannabis advocates claim that more than 800 dispensaries have sprouted here since 2002; some law enforcement officials say it is closer to 1,000. Whatever the real number, everyone agrees it is too high.
When folks in Los Angeles think their dispensary numbers are too high (again, no pun) we need to pause and take heed. If we open the door to even one in Nipomo, are we setting a precedent we will regret? It would be the only operating dispensary in all of San Luis Obispo County, and northern Santa Barbara County. Look at how the industry has grown in Los Angeles. Granted, we are not Los Angeles; however, I think their experiences are instructive.
And so this, too, is taken for granted: Crackdowns on cannabis clubs will soon come in this city, which has more dispensaries than any other.
For the first time, law enforcement officials in Los Angeles have vowed to prosecute medical marijuana dispensaries that turn a profit, with police officials saying they expect to conduct raids. Their efforts are widely seen as a campaign to sway the City Council into adopting strict regulations after two years of debate.
I think this is also a major concern. These dispensaries are supposed to be non profit. The temptation is apparently too great. Again, another lesson for us.
It appears to be working. Carmen A. Trutanich, the newly elected city attorney, recently persuaded the Council to put aside a proposed ordinance negotiated with medical marijuana supporters for one drafted by his office. The new proposal calls for dispensaries to have renewable permits, submit to criminal record checks, register the names of members with the police and operate on a nonprofit basis. If enacted, it is likely to result in the closing of hundreds of marijuana dispensaries.
Mr. Trutanich argued that state law permits the exchange of marijuana between growers and patients on a nonprofit and noncash basis only. Marijuana advocates say that interpretation would regulate dispensaries out of existence and thwart the will of voters who approved medical cannabis in 1996.
Whatever happens here will be closely watched by law enforcement officials and marijuana advocates across the country who are threading their way through federal laws that still treat marijuana as an illegal drug and state laws that are increasingly allowing medicinal use. Thirteen states have laws supporting medical marijuana, and others are considering new legislation.
No state has gone further than California, often described by drug enforcement agents as a “source nation” because of the vast quantities of marijuana grown here. And no city in the state has gone further than Los Angeles. This has alarmed local officials, who say that dispensary owners here took unfair advantage of vague state laws intended to create exceptions to marijuana prohibitions for a limited number of ill people.
“About 100 percent of dispensaries in Los Angeles County and the city are operating illegally,” said Steve Cooley, the Los Angeles County district attorney, who is up for re-election in 2012. “The time is right to deal with this problem.”
I don’t know if all of the Los Angeles dispensaries are operating illegally; however, it appears to be factually accurate that many of them are. Our own history in San Luis Obispo County shows that the temptation not to follow state and county guidelines is great.
Mr. Cooley, speaking last week at a training luncheon for regional narcotics officers titled “The Eradication of Medical Marijuana Dispensaries in the City of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County,” said that state law did not allow dispensaries to be for-profit enterprises.
Mr. Trutanich, the city attorney, went further, saying dispensaries were prohibited from accepting cash even to reimburse growers for labor and supplies. He said that a recent California Supreme Court decision, People v. Mentch, banned all over-the-counter sales of marijuana; other officials and marijuana advocates disagree.
Further Update 01/20/10 7:30 p.m.
Another post from a Santa Barbara news blog, edhat, chronicles further arrests and the closing of another “dispensary:”
SANTA BARBARA, CA – 1/11/2010 – January 11th, 2010. For the past few months, the Santa Barbara Police Department has received information that the marijuana dispensary named Humanity, located at 715 Bond Avenue, was operating in violation of the Compassionate Use Act. Information sources included complaints and public comments made at the Marijuana Ordinance hearings held at City Council Chambers. SBPD Narcotic detectives initiated a thorough investigation and made undercover purchases by an individual who presented a counterfeit medical marijuana recommendation. ID was never checked and the medical marijuana recommendation never verified. Judge Ochoa authorized search and arrest warrants for the business, six employees, and their residences.
On January 7th, Santa Barbara Police Detectives executed 7 search warrants in Santa Barbara City, Goleta, Santa Ynez, Lompoc and Santa Maria. 5 residences and 2 businesses were searched. SBPD was assisted by: The Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department, the Santa Barbara Regional Narcotics Enforcement Team, and the Santa Barbara District Attorney’s Office. Police recovered 63 lbs of marijuana buried in the backyard of the Santa Ynez address. They seized $12,000 in cash, 281 doses of un-prescribed anabolic steroids, and 150 growing marijuana plants.
In addition to this case, detectives investigated an assault with a deadly weapon case involving two current dispensary employees against a former employee. The current employees were charged with assault with a deadly weapon and false imprisonment; see listed charges below.
Arrested on January 7th were:
Brandon Timothy Fox, age 33; for: conspiracy to possess and sell marijuana; bail $100,000.
Timothy Newton Kurriss, age 33; for: conspiracy to possess and sell marijuana; bail $100,000.
Caroline Emmanuelle Kurriss, age 29; for: conspiracy to possess and sell marijuana; bail $100,000.
Raul Izaak Adame, age 33; for: conspiracy to possess and sell marijuana, assault with a deadly weapon, false imprisonment, and possession of un-prescribed steroids; bail $100,000.
Jose Juan Adame, age 35; for: conspiracy to possess and sell marijuana, possession of un-prescribed hydrocodone, and concentrated marijuana (Hashish); bail $100,000.
Brennen Carlton Baptista, age 33, for: conspiracy to possess and sell marijuana, assault with a deadly weapon, and false imprisonment, bail $100,000.
Brandon Fox is the owner of Humanity Dispensary. In addition to the listed seizure of cash assets, detectives gained court authorization to freeze $25,000 in bank assets. Other financial documents and transaction records are being examined to determine if the source was illegal profiteering from Humanity Dispensary.
11/30/09 Rumors about a medical-marijuana dispensary possibly opening in Los Olivos spurred residents and organizations to join together to prevent any from setting up shop in town.
The Preservation of Los Olivos (POLO) group will be hosting a meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Grange Hall, 2374 Alamo Pintado Ave., to discuss a plan of action to present to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on Dec. 9.
“We are hoping we have a unified view from the community regarding the direction we give the Board of Supervisors, so we don’t end up with dispensaries just popping up,” said Dennis Shoen, member of POLO.
The county has not passed an ordinance banning pot clinics in unincorporated communities, such as Los Olivos or Santa Ynez. However Buellton, Solvang Santa Maria and other Central Coast cities have passed ordinances which temporarily prohibit the establishment of storefront dispensaries.
San Luis Obispo County, is at least one step ahead of Santa Barbara County as they do have an ordinance in place for unincorporated areas.
Los Olivos falls under Santa Barbara County jurisdiction, according to Kim Probert, of the county planning department.
“The purpose of meeting is to get community input about medical marijuana dispensaries and present the research we have found. What we have come up with is there are 22 dispensaries in Santa Barbara, which is twice the number of Starbucks within their city limits,” Shoen said.
Through POLO’s research, more than 50 percent of people who frequent the dispensaries reportedly are under 30 years old, and he said it seemed it was for more recreational use than pain management.
This is a staggering statistic–50% are under 30 years old? If true, it’s very difficult to make the case these folks are all chronic pain and/or cancer patients.
“At this meeting we will have a presentation about the medical marijuana situation regarding what is happening in Santa Barbara and outside of California at states who have legalized some form of medical marijuana use,” Shoen said.
Other reports circulated regarding a medical-marijuana dispensary at the former shoe store on the corner of Edison Street and Madera Street in Santa Ynez, but there have been no applications submitted to Santa Barbara County Planning Department for tenant improvement permits, Probert said.
The building at 1050 Edison St. is zoned C-2 retail commercial, and according to Probert, a dispensary falls under that category so no zoning permits would be needed to open.
Guillermo Medina, owner of the building which currently houses an art gallery, a hair-styling salon, three apartments and his own chiropractic office, said there has not been a dispensary there, nor will there be one.
However, Probert said that a building inspector had noticed construction activity at the old shoe store location and alerted County Planning to question if permits had been submitted.
“Even though we are in the unincorporated part of the county, we can have still have some type of say about what happens in our community,” Shoen said.
A medical-marijuana dispensary in Old Town Orcutt was rejected by the building’s owner despite approval from Santa Barbara County in July.
Neighbors and local business owners grew concerned when they received a letter stating the county had approved a land-use permit for the dispensary on West Clark Avenue.
At the time of the permit approval, Wellness Center Commercial Center had a lease agreement of approval from Orcutt Trade Center owner Greti Croft, according to county planning documents.
Once notices were delivered, Croft said, she was deluged with phone calls from her tenants and fellow Orcutt residents. Croft said once she realized her new tenant would be a marijuana dispensary, she canceled the agreement.
For more information, visit www.polosyv.org.
Staff writer Samantha Womack contributed to this story.
November 30, 2009
Bottom line: We don’t need or want to interject these same issues into our local community.