Monday Aug 24 2009
Pot shop debate hits home
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
Local cities weigh in on medical cannabis dispensaries
It’s not so easy being green in Placer County, particularly for those looking to open a commercial medical cannabis dispensary. Recently the towns of Colfax and Loomis have put a moratorium in place prohibiting medical marijuana shops from opening. Officials from both towns say they will take the next 10 months to research the issue before making a final decision. Other county cities, including Auburn, have ordinances in place not allowing commercial storefront medical marijuana dispensaries. Federal law declaring medical marijuana as illegal was the reason most of those cities opted to not allow the shops. There is one, however, that has been quietly thriving in Colfax. The Golden State Patient Care Collective is now operating in its fifth year in the small foothills town and its owners say they hope to continue helping people. Collective care “We’re really low profile,” said Jim Henry, co-owner of Golden State Patient Care Collective. “The most advertising we do is that sign up front.” Henry and his partner have operated the collective since 2004. They say a mix of tight security surrounding the premises coupled with strict guidelines for dispensing medical cannabis has made their operation successful. The collective uses cannabis that other collective members grow. As allowed by state law, the members can sell the marijuana they don’t use for themselves in a collective, Henry said. At the Colfax collective, an eighth of an ounce of marijuana can cost between $5 and $60. Nevada City resident Karen Stone said she makes the trip to the Colfax collective about once or twice a month and pays about $25 to $60 for the quarter of an ounce of marijuana her doctor recommends. She said the drug helps calm her anxiety, depression and insomnia. “I stand up 100,000 percent for this being legalized,” Stone said Monday after purchasing cannabis. The 63-year-old said cannabis has worked “better than anything” else she’s tried. Tim, a fellow Golden State collective patient, who withheld his last name, said his cannabis recommendation helps pain that came after he broke his back. “It helps me with my breakthrough pain and my sleeping,” Tim said. “Because I’m using this medicine, I’m not using as much morphine for my pain.” A marijuana moratorium At recent Colfax and Loomis council meetings, members have tabled a decision of whether to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in town limits. Staffs from both towns plan to research the laws regarding medical marijuana and Loomis officials want to poll residents and business owners. Ken Delfino, Colfax city councilmember, said city staff plans to sort out confusion over state, federal and county laws regarding medical marijuana. “The state allows it but the feds say we can’t have it so until somebody makes up their minds, I’m not voting in support of anything,” Delfino said. Delfino added that while he’s not heard of any problems with the collective in Colfax, he said he would not support opening another one in the area. “Having more than what we have now is not what this community is about,” Delfino said. Gary Liss, Loomis vice mayor, said he hopes to get a sense of what residents and business members feel about allowing a collective in their area. He said town representatives plan to research the concerns such as potential traffic and crime impacts as well as benefits including potential sales tax revenue. “How this issue fits in with providing for our regional needs is one of the things that needs to be addressed,” Liss said. Colfax resident Robert Dearwester is one citizen in particular who will be watching for Loomis’ decisions. Dearwester filed an application to open a medical cannabis collective in Loomis. Dearwester said he would like to open a collective in that area because it’s a middle point between Colfax, home to one collective, and Sacramento, where there are about 30. Dearwester said he believes many people have a fear of what such a business in their area would mean. He said one of the primary fears is that crime will increase. He pointed to the Colfax collective as a model of what can work. “I think the fear comes irrationally from a lack of education,” Dearwester said. “Once people educate themselves and they see it’s a compassionate issue and not a drug issue, they usually come around to it.” Law enforcement’s perspective Troy Minton-Sander, Placer Sheriff’s Colfax substation sergeant, said since the Colfax collective’s 2004 opening, there have been no crimes or arrests related to the shop. He said deputies maintain a business relationship with the collective just as they would with any other. “We contract with the city of Colfax and it’s their decision as to what kind of business they operate in the community,” Minton Sander said. He added that there are no separate statistics for marijuana-related crimes in the area. Auburn Police Chief Valerie Harris also said statistics are difficult to separate and compare. Marijuana use can become a public safety issue, she added. “The fact that you can use it doesn’t mean you can violate the law by driving impaired,” Harris said. “That’s where it becomes a public safety issue.” Where does each city stand? The cities of Auburn, Roseville, Rocklin and Lincoln all have zoning ordinances that prohibit a medical marijuana dispensary as a storefront operation. Harris said Auburn’s zoning ordinance does not allow for an operation that conflicts with or potentially violates federal or state law. Since federal law declares medical cannabis illegal, she said the city does not allow for a commercial store to sell it. Roseville has a similar ordinance. Recently, several hopeful applicants have called the city inquiring whether that ordinance was going to change given the current federal department of justice’s indication that they will not prosecute medical marijuana facilities as aggressively as before, according to Dee Dee Gunther, Roseville City Police spokeswoman. Gunther said there are no plans to amend the ordinance since the law hasn’t actually changed. She said those with medical recommendations from doctors allowing them to grow plants for their own use is different from setting up a pharmacy-type business and selling it. “I think the main concern is it conflicts with federal law,” Gunther said. Potential tax revenue? Last month, the City of Oakland’s voters approved a measure allowing the city to levy a higher tax on cannabis sales. The city believes it will generate more than $290,000 in revenue from the measure next year. However, some local city officials said the idea of more revenue was not worth the cost of potential problems. Peter Hill, Rocklin’s mayor, said the city’s chief of police presented council members with a report detailing crime experienced in other cities that welcome medical cannabis dispensaries. “I don’t think the council would trade off bringing in more crime into the community,” Hill said. “It’s not worth the little tax money. We’re more interested in having a safe community than we are getting a few dollars off marijuana sales.” Lincoln mayor Spencer Short added that his city also has a zoning ordinance not allowing medical marijuana dispensaries. He said it simply comes down to the city wanting to follow federal law. “Some cities are saying they don’t want the crime,” Short said. “We’re just saying until this issue is sorted out, we’re not going to weigh in.” Jenifer Gee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.