Pubdate: Tue, 29 Apr 2008
Source: Arcata Eye (CA)
Copyright: 2008 Arcata Eye
Author: Kevin L. Hoover, Eye Editor
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


COMMUNITY CENTER - The stage was set for a rough meeting last week at 
the Community Center, as the City Council held a long-overdue study 
session on medical marijuana dispensaries.

Almost miraculously, that didn't happen. Though official decisions 
aren't taken at study sessions, the council, which has been divided 
regarding commercial cannabis, nonetheless achieved a rough consensus 
on dispensary issues. By meeting's end, councilmembers, staff, 
clinicians and members of the public were chatting amicably amid a 
palpable sense of progress, if not complete resolution.

The council recently upheld a decision by the Planning Commission to 
disallow cultivation in the Central Business District, shattering the 
business model for that area's three dispensaries. City officials 
have viewed the dispensaries with increasing skepticism as their 
neighborhood and environmental impacts become more evident, along 
with suspicion that some may be purchasing from illegal, for-profit 
grow houses and encouraging their proliferation.

For their part, the dispensaries have been dismayed by what they 
believe is a lack of understanding by the City as to their beneficial 
community role and tax contributions. With big dollars, established 
businesses and jobs at stake, City attempts to scale back cultivation 
have been viewed as unfair and uninformed after-the-fact meddling.

But apart from a few tense moments, the council, dispensary officials 
and community members managed to define terms, resolve some points of 
dispute, clarify goals and advance the discussion.

The magic bullet? An overlay zone, allowing limited on-site 
cultivation but also carrying impact-reducing restrictions the 
dispensaries must observe.

As informally consensed at the meetings, staff will research 
possibilities for establishing an overlay zone to allow the on-site 
cultivation the dispensaries want while building in requirements 
intended to ameliorate the various impacts and issues that have cropped up.

Overdue issues

The study session represented the first general public discussion of 
the overall issue of downtown cannabis dispensaries, a niche industry 
which has replaced auto dealers in the buildings that once housed 
them in the Central Business District.

City leaders and some community members have viewed the phenomenon 
with some concern, since it has come into being more or less outside 
the planning process.

The recent Planco nixation of downtown cannabis growing highlighted 
the potential for conflict between the General Plan and a burgeoning 
new industry which it doesn't address. "The train has already left 
the station," said Mayor Mark Wheetley a few weeks ago.

Issues that have come to light as the old Isackson Ford and P.C. 
Sacchi Chevrolet dealerships have become cannabis centers include 
appearance and signage, environmental impacts - energy use, solid 
waste and recycling, impacts on neighborhoods and appearance and 
signage. Abatement measures informally discussed have included a 
limit on clients, a moratorium on new clinics and compliance monitoring.

The meeting began with a viewing of a 60 Minutes video segment which 
profiled the out-of-control cannabis clinic scene in the Bay Area. 
There, the Morley Safer piece alleged, the medical marijuana scene 
has become a "hall of mirrors," with Prop 215's original intent - to 
allow compassionate use of cannabis - hijacked by druggies, 
profiteers and outright criminals.

Mayor Mark Wheetley started right out by recommending a moratorium on 
new dispensary applications, which he called a "time-out." City 
Attorney Nancy Diamond said such suspensions generally apply for 45 days.

The relatively informal meeting included frequent ciizen comment, 
with the relationship between cannabis dispensaries and grow houses 
variously compared, contrasted and sometimes confused.

Citizen Bob Ornelas, along with some others, approved of dispensaries 
as a "clean industry" that could serve to ameliorate grow houses, 
which he called a "completely different animal." But citizen Wilma 
Johnston said four dispensaries are "more than enough in a  city of 
23,000 when school's insession." She called for a moratorium on 
dispensaries and grow houses alike. "We want back our neighborhoods," she said.

Eric Heimstadt, who operates the Humboldt Medical Supply (HMS) 
dispensary, suggested that the clinics only be able to sell what they 
grow on site, and that there be residency requirements.

Councilmember Alex Stillman liked those suggestions. She'd been told 
by Tony Turner of The Humboldt Cooperative (THC) that his business 
serves nearly 6,000 patients, and that THC buys cannabis of unknown 
origin from independent vendors. "I just think that has to stop," 
Stillman said.

She also expressed concern about the lack of solid waste recycling at 
the dispensaries. THC dumps its used soil and green waste in a 
dumpster, and its used cultivation water goes directly down the drain.

Councilmember Michael Machi noted complaints from citizens about 
dispensary customers intruding on their property, vandalism and other abuses.

Citizen Wade DeLashmutt again pleaded for a ban on residential grow 
houses, and said dispensaries could be contained just as pattern 
restaurants are limited.

Community Development Director Larry Oetker said that all the 
identified impacts could be addressed by implementation of an overlay 
zone. That and a possible moratorium on new dispensary applications 
will be developed by staff for council and Planco consideration.

Wheetley thanked Heimstadt and his staff for their detailed input to 
the council, calling HMS the "gold bar standard" among Arcata cannabis clinics.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom