Pubdate: Fri, 12 Nov 2010
Source: Calaveras Enterprise (CA)
Copyright: 2010 Calaveras Enterprise
Author: Joel Metzger


The ordinance spelling out guidelines for medical marijuana 
dispensaries and collectives in Calaveras County is in the process of 
getting a facelift.

Officials say it should modernize it and enhance the law's 
enforceability, but it also could mean the end of a controversial 
medical marijuana shop in Valley Springs, a first-of-its kind 
operation in the county.

Public officials privately state that the retrofit of the ordinance 
is long overdue, but it is happening now because of Forgotten 
Knowledge Collective, which opened for business in Valley Springs in 
July. Some public officials and some private individuals question 
whether it is operating legally.

According to Calaveras County Sheriff Dennis Downum, the owner of 
FKC, Guy Meyers, got his business license application approved for 
something that is not consistent with his existing operation.

"It's no state secret that he filled out a business license saying he 
was going to sell old African artifacts and books," said Calaveras 
County Sheriff Dennis Downum.

"As far as I can tell, he totally lied on his business license. It's 
totally, 100 percent, outside of our ordinance for zoning."

Meyers spoke with the Enterprise Thursday morning and addressed the 
two main allegations about the circumstances surrounding his business.

"We are 100 percent compliant with state and local law," he said. 
When asked whether he applied to sell books and then opened a medical 
marijuana collective instead, he said that there is "misinformation 
floating around out there.

"We applied for a business license as a collective. We also do sell books."

Meyers was very clear that the word collective does appear on his 
business license application, while declining to be any more specific 
about the manner in which it was used.

As for the zoning issue, Meyers said that with all due respect to 
those to say otherwise, he has a different opinion.

"I believe that it is in the correct zoning," he said.

And as for the changes that are being made to the ordinance, Meyers 
said that all new laws concern him, but that a changing ordinance 
shouldn't affect a business that is already legally in business.

A code of silence about the collective seems to have been taken by 
several county officials, who either refuse to speak about it 
directly or decline to return calls.

"I'm not going to comment on Forgotten Knowledge," said County 
Counsel Jim Jones. "Nobody is going to tell you what the county has in mind."

Jones also declined to give any sort of a timeline on when the 
ordinance is likely to be updated.

He did say that if land is being used in a manner inconsistent with 
county zoning requirements, there are steps that can be taken.

Building Official Jeff White did not return calls for comment. 
Messages left at Code Compliance were not returned.

Planning Director George White declined to comment specifically about FKC.

"We have a code that under certain circumstances can approve a 
medical marijuana dispensary," White said, adding that it could only 
be located in professional office zoning. Forgotten Knowledge, 10 
Nove Way, Suite C, has a split zoning of general commercial and 
general industry, according to the Planning Department.

Meyers calls his operation a collective, which is not specifically 
addressed in the county ordinance. The existing ordinance refers only 
to dispensaries. State attorney general guidelines make no 
differentiation between the two. White said the ordinance revision is 
likely to follow the state's wording.

White said there were three possibilities to penalize businesses that 
are not in compliance with county ordinances.

"It's possible for law enforcement personnel to do some sort of 
enforcement. There is the land use enforcement, which is code 
compliance, and there is county counsel to go through a civil or 
criminal proceeding."

Downum said his department has unsuccessfully attempted to catch FKC 
in criminal behavior.

"We have done some things to see if they would sell us marijuana 
without the letter (a doctor's recommendation) and they haven't," Downum said.

Since then, FKC has been sitting in the lap of the Board of 
Supervisors, Downum said, adding, "It's pretty much in their ball park."

He questioned why anybody would go through the proper procedures to 
get a business license if the county declines to enforce its own ordinances.

"I think, quite frankly, it is grossly unfair to the people who have 
come into this county and tried to open dispensaries legally and 
complied with our ordinances. They have to feel like idiots."

One woman, Gretchen Seagraves of West Point, has been trying to open 
a medical marijuana collective for two years and said she is very 
frustrated with the county.

"I had hoped to open a legal, safe medical marijuana collective for 
folks like myself, because I don't think we should have to sneak 
around in back alleys to get our medication," Seagraves said.

"I told the county, 'You've put me through the wringer for two years 
and this guy just opens one?'" Seagraves said, referring to Guy 
Meyers. "I don't think it's fair."

Seagraves plans to open her shop in a building she recently purchased 
in San Andreas. It is where the Calaveras Council of Governments had 
its office on the corner of Mountain Ranch Road and Marshall Avenue 
across from Mark Twain St. Joseph's Hospital.

The route Seagraves decided to take was to meet with all the county 
officials she could find and tell them exactly what she wanted to do 
and ask their advice on how to do it properly.

At first, she said that most officials were very helpful. Now, two 
years later, she has a much more skeptical view.

"I talk to everybody," she said. "I follow every step they tell me to 
do and all they do is hit me with more conditions.

"I don't believe that the current administration will allow anything 
to happen," Seagraves said, adding that she believes things might be 
different after Jan. 1, when Downum is replaced by Sheriff-elect Gary 
Kuntz. "I feel like I should be able to go and open my shop just like 
Guy Meyers did."

Seagraves visited Treasurer-Tax Collector Lynette Norfolk to ask her 
why she had not revoked Meyers' business license.

"She told me, 'Because we've never done that before,'" Seagraves 
said, adding that when she called the office the next morning Norfolk 
told her that she had been instructed by county counsel to not give 
any further comment.

"It has cost me so much money to do it legal and to do it right," she 
said. "I think that it's grossly unfair that the county would give an 
unfair business advantage to any business. To me it's giving him 
(Meyers) a license to break the law. It makes me sick.

"It's bad enough that I have to compete with the black market. To me, 
he is the black market."

Tom Liberty, founder of Calaveras Patient Resources, said that in his 
discussions with county officials it became apparent that Meyers' 
business license application might have slipped through the cracks.

"Every county official I spoke with said there was deception 
involved," Liberty said. "But the fact that he's still open seems to 
be a testament that he's legal."

Liberty said that he has gotten the impression from county officials 
that the primary reason for rewriting the county ordinance was to 
develop a code that would be capable of shutting down FKC.

"They felt the need to rewrite the code because they don't feel the 
existing code will stand up in a court of law," Liberty said.

Planning Director George White had a slightly different take on the 
reason that the ordinance was being revised, emphasizing that the 
update was intended to bring the county up to speed with the state's 
views on marijuana.

"The intent is to bring our current regulations related to medical 
marijuana into compliance with state law in a number of ways: 
terminology, process and enforcement."

"As much as people feel that Guy cut corners and there was unfairness 
in how he opened, I have not seen a disturbance in Valley Springs - 
most people don't even know he's there," Liberty said. "I think if 
the county tries to shut him down they will have a fight on their hands."
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