Pubdate: Wed, 28 Apr 2010
Source: Chico Enterprise-Record (CA)
Copyright: 2010 Chico Enterprise-Record
Note: Letters from newspaper's circulation area receive publishing priority
Author: Toni Scott
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal - U.S.)


EDITOR'S NOTE: With the Chico City Council considering zoning for 
dispensaries and regulation of marijuana gardens, medical marijuana 
has taken center stage in city discussions.

This series explores some of the issues that have arisen over 
Proposition 215, and aims to present an overview of medical marijuana 
in Chico, while exploring the potential impacts of dispensing collectives.

The series will run five days and will include perspectives of 
medical marijuana patients, law enforcement officials and individuals 
who are already running dispensaries in town.

CHICO -- With all the change the Golden State has experienced since 
1996, there has been one endless debate in almost every California 
county, city and community -- over medical marijuana.

Passed by California voters 14 years ago, Proposition 215 did little 
to quell arguments over cannabis and its use for medical ailments.

Instead, a storm of discourse has raged, with conflict over how many 
medicinal marijuana plants a person can grow, to the economics of 
taxing the drug.

Chico certainly has been no stranger to the discussions, with the 
community presently facing some of its most pivotal moments since 
Proposition 215 was enacted.

For the past three months, City Attorney Lori Barker has been 
drafting an ordinance that, if approved, will lay the foundation for 
storefront dispensaries to open shop. Barker is also working on an 
ordinance that would restrict outdoor marijuana grows.

The Chico City Council directed Barker to highlight areas of the city 
where dispensaries could be permitted.

Under current land-use laws, dispensaries are illegal in Chico and 
Butte County. Zoning laws only permit uses that are explicitly stated 
as such and no county or city zoning district allows for medical 
marijuana dispensaries.

Federal law states that any marijuana use, possession or cultivation 
is illegal.

Yet, with pot shops popping up throughout the state and the city 
receiving complaints about backyard grows, the majority of the 
council agreed it would be advantageous to begin crafting regulations now.

"This issue was brought to us by community members," said Mayor Ann 
Schwab. "When the community has a concern, it's the council's 
responsibility to respond to that and come up with a solution."

But what does that solution look like for the city of Chico?

For those who medicate with marijuana like Chico residents Kris Kidd 
and Rosalina Acevedo, the need for a dispensary is indisputable. They 
want safe and affordable access to their medication.

For local law enforcement leaders like Butte County District Attorney 
Mike Ramsey and Chico Police Chief Mike Maloney, the answer is a clear no.

Both say dispensaries could bring crime into the city and both are 
concerned about the negative impacts of marijuana use throughout the community.

But even if the City Council does not allow for the zoning of 
dispensing collectives, they are already here. California Harm 
Reduction Cooperative, Inc., has been up and running on Hegan Lane 
for approximately nine months.

David Kasakove, a board member of the collective, said it boasts more 
than 460 members, the majority of whom reside in Butte County. Member 
patients can come into California Harm Reduction Cooperative and, if 
they have a doctor's recommendation for marijuana, can procure the 
drug on site.

Kasakove said there is an obvious need for a dispensary in Chico, 
just by the sheer volume of members the cooperative has.

"We've taken 460-plus patients that would have to score their 
marijuana from their neighbor and given them a place where they can 
safely access their medicine," Kasakove said.

Kasakove is a familiar face on the medical marijuana scene.

In 1997, the Claremont native's store Everything's Hemp on Nord 
Avenue and the office of the Chico Medical Marijuana Caregiver's 
Association, was raided by Butte County sheriff's deputies on 
suspicion Kasakove was distributing marijuana out of the building.

The charges against him were eventually dismissed, but the 
investigation into his operation led to the federal prosecution of 
Chico's Bryan Epis, who was convicted in 2002 on charges of growing 
large quantities of marijuana in his home near Chico High School for 
the cooperative.

Though Epis was released from prison in 2004 by an appeals court 
decision, in 2009 he was ordered back to federal custody by a federal 
judge to serve the remainder of his 10-year sentence.

Kasakove said the negative attention subsequently forced him to shut 
down the Chico Medical Marijuana Caregiver's Association cooperative 
- -- one of the first 15 in California -- and he moved to Humboldt 
County in 2000.

He took over a dispensing cooperative there, but it closed after 
embezzlement and theft among employees.

Even with the past failures, Kasakove moved to Chico specifically to 
open a dispensing cooperative.

"It's a necessity," Kasakove said. "There's obviously need."

The need for medical marijuana access is hard to pinpoint. The Butte 
County Health Department has just 37 cardholders enrolled in the 
state's voluntary medical marijuana identification program that began 
after the 2003 passage of Senate Bill 420.

Some pro-marijuana organizations estimate there are at least 300,000 
California residents who hold recommendations for medical marijuana. 
At least 600 dispensaries are listed on the California National 
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws website, but the 
organization does not attest to the quality of any dispensary listed.

Kasakove maintains that California Harm Reduction Cooperative in 
Chico is legitimate.

"We're legal, we're transparent," Kasakove said, adding that he has a 
business license with the city.

Barker said a business license does not prove the legality of any 
business, saying dispensaries are still not permitted under the 
city's zoning regulations.

Chief Maloney knows of the cooperative, as well as Doctor's Orders 
Co-op, which is also in city limits on Cohasset Road. Kasakove said 
he believes as many as eight dispensaries could be located in and around Chico.

Maloney said the Chico Police Department is "not turning a blind eye" 
to the operations, but said with staffing at an all-time per-capita 
low, monitoring each dispensary for illegal activity is simply not feasible.

"We just don't have the resources," Maloney said. "Everything is on a 
scale of priorities."

But even if dispensaries aren't the highest priority for police at 
the moment, for the City Council the cultivation and dispensing of 
medical marijuana is at the top of its list.

"We're moving forward; we're making a decision," Schwab said. "Items 
that are important to our community reflect the importance to the 
council. And the community has spoken that this is an important issue to them."

But no matter how the votes fall on the zoning of dispensaries, or 
the fact that the majority of Butte County residents voted against 
Proposition 215, one thing the council cannot change is that with or 
without regulations, pot's presence in Chico is prevalent.



CHICO -- The city of Chico and Chico State University First Year 
Experience Program will host The Great Debate on Thursday.

Throughout the day, students will present speeches about the 
legalization of marijuana. The event highlight will be a main debate 
at 6:30 p.m., which will pit proponents and opponents of legalized 
marijuana against each other.

Lobbyist Max Del Real, Chico State sociology professor Marianne Paiva 
and Dale Clare, executive chancellor of Oaksterdam University, will 
argue for legalized marijuana.

Chico City Councilor Scott Gruendl, Chico Unified School District 
Board President Jann Reed and Carl Ochsner, director of the Work 
Training Center, will lobby against legalizing marijuana.

The debate will be held in the City Council Chambers, 421 Main St.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake