Pubdate: Fri, 12 Nov 2010
Source: Calaveras Enterprise (CA)
Copyright: 2010 Calaveras Enterprise
Author: Brionna Friedrich


For a medical marijuana ordinance update described by Planning 
Department Director George White as "essentially outlining the same 
process that already exists for dispensaries," the level of 
opposition among the people crowding the boardroom for the hearing 
Tuesday was astounding.

While opposition was universal throughout testimony, the reasons 
varied distinctly. From the Sheriff's Office's perspective, the 
ordinance did not do enough to restrict a Schedule I controlled 
substance. For patients, it did too much to restrict compassionate 
sharing of a homegrown medicine that eases the pain for many people 
with few other options.

Assistant County Counsel Janis Elliot presented the ordinance, and 
said much of the rewording was an attempt to bring the county 
ordinance in line with recent state developments. Law surrounding 
medical marijuana use is constantly evolving, and Elliot said there 
was no case law to draw from yet aside from the Attorney General's 
Office guidelines.

The proposed changes would include a prohibition on outdoor growing 
operations, requiring all plants to be grown inside a structure with 
four walls, a roof and standard locks. Based on other ordinances, the 
decision was made to restrict Calaveras to four dispensaries, which 
should be adequate based on the number of requests and population of 
the area. Elliot said much of the ordinance was drawn from 
Stockton-area policies.

The term "dispensary" was also replaced with "collective," as the 
attorney general has said there is "no such thing as a dispensary," 
Elliot said.

Patient advocate Tom Liberty of Calaveras Patient Resources said the 
ordinance would "muddy the waters terribly" in terms of what 
collectives would be able to do.

Liberty said there is a distinct difference between collectives and 
dispensaries. A collective is more accurately defined as a 
patient-run garden where a few patients might come together to share 
medicine, Liberty said, adding that there were at least a dozen 
collectives operating in Calaveras County that he knew of.

"If you're not a patient, you probably didn't even know they were 
there," he added. "A dispensary is, simply put, a marijuana store."

He also said the cost of indoor growing, which he estimated at close 
to $2,500 per year, would be far too steep for the average patient to 
continue growing for themselves. Liberty said there was no need to 
include anything about individual growing operations in an ordinance 
regulating storefronts.

"If the purpose is to cover the county's proverbial buttocks, strike 
the section on individual grows."

Liberty concluded that the writers of the ordinance were simply 
ignorant of some of the intricacies of medical marijuana cultivation 
and laws. He recommended the board convene a multidisciplinary 
committee to refine the ordinance in a more accurate and realistic 
way for patients.

The lack of distinction in the ordinance between personal growing 
operations and for-profit storefronts was an issue throughout most of 
the testimony from medical marijuana patients.

"You're going to be hurting thousands of other residents just like 
me," said Charles Simms, a combat veteran and liver cancer patient. 
"I don't want to grow for anybody else, but at least I don't have to 
go out and deal with the criminal element to get my medicine."

The specter of a not-so-distant time in which patients didn't have 
safe options for obtaining their medicine hung heavy over much of the 

Clyde Clapp, a Valley Springs resident who regularly comments at 
board meetings, said that while he doesn't smoke or even drink, he 
empathizes with medical marijuana patients because when the wives of 
two close friends had cancer, the husbands had to "go out on the 
street to look for drugs to help."

Gretchen Seagraves, a West Point resident who has worked for years to 
open a medical marijuana collective storefront in San Andreas, said 
she smoked marijuana as a cancer patient.

"I happen to believe it saved my life," she said. Neighbor-hood teens 
suggested the drug to help her through her cancer treatments 20 years 
ago, and helped her obtain it. Her son was arrested at one point 
while trying to get her drugs.

"Now I'm retired and have nothing to lose - I think everyone should 
have a lawful way to get medicine."

Although the staff report indicated that the concerns from the 
Sheriff's Office that could lawfully be included had been, Capt. Jim 
Macedo reiterated his department's issues with the ordinance to the board.

"We don't support it to begin with, but if we're going to be forced 
to live with it, we want our requests incorporated."

Macedo said collectives should receive further environmental review 
because their fertilizers were unaccounted for, and byproducts from 
hash-oil production could enter the sewer system without the 
knowledge of sewer districts.

He also said collectives should have paid, uniformed security, be 
restricted from any individual with a felony record and have a ban on firearms.

"A person has a right to possess a firearm in their private 
business," Macedo acknowledged, but said many distributors of medical 
marijuana might not be aware of enhanced penalties for trafficking 
narcotics while armed.

"I think in my opinion, if you're authorizing this, you're 
jeopardizing those people. You're giving them a false sense of hope 
that they are going to be immune from prosecution; however, that's 
only relating to the drug laws."

Macedo also observed that most jurisdictions that have allowed 
dispensaries, or commercial collectives, quickly repealed them or 
placed a moratorium on their medical marijuana ordinance because of 
the associated criminal activity.

"We're not making these recommendations arbitrarily," Macedo said.

Supervisor Tom Tryon was unimpressed by the agricultural concerns 
raised by the captain.

"We always talk about marijuana like it's some great thing - it's 
just another plant."

Tryon added that a personal grower with a plant or two shouldn't have 
to report his fertilizer any more than Tryon should report the 
fertilizer used on his rosebushes.

"I don't want to shut down what is currently working," he said. "You 
can allow the little guy to take care of their needs and their 
families needs. ... It just seems we're making a much bigger deal out 
of this than it needs to be."

Supervisor Russ Thomas was brief in his comments, but concurred with 
Tryon: "If it's not really broken, let's not fix it."

Supervisor Gary Tofanelli was more understanding of some concerns 
raised, acknowledging the temptations of outdoor growing operations for youth.

As a teenager in the '60s, Tofanelli said, "Yes I did smoke pot and 
yes I did inhale." He added that if he had come across marijuana 
growing out in the open as a youth, he probably would have tried to steal it.

Supervisor Steve Wilensky made by far the most impassioned defense of 
patients' rights.

"I, too, am a cancer survivor, and I know what you go through when 
you have those kinds of treatments and your life passes before you. 
It makes you try different things to see if you can feel just OK."

Wilensky said it seemed the ordinance was "still fighting the culture 
wars of the '60s," which was "a terrible distortion."He went on to 
indirectly chastise the Sheriff's Office's handling of the ordinance.

"I believe law enforcement should inform policy ... but law 
enforcement has a primary responsibility to enforce policy made by 

Wilensky said he had reviewed all complaints made around collectives 
and dispensaries in Calaveras County since their legalization in 
1996, and contrary to Macedo's implication, had found the volume to 
be unremarkable.

"When we make policy, I don't want statistics compiled to distort 
things. What I want to know is, is there a disproportionate amount of 
crime around a certain operations or not?"

As far as storefront regulations, Wilensky called the ordinance 
"about 80 percent done," but said regulations on personal cultivation 
had a long way to go.

He further called the requirement of indoor growing "the agricultural 
equivalent of 'don't ask, don't tell.'"

"Let's jettison Stockton and do things the Calaveras way. We're a 
rural county," he said to applause from the audience.

"We've got a drug problem in America. We won't address it through 
medical marijuana code," Wilensky said. Methamphetamine drug deals 
happen "right out in the open, not under four walls and a roof," he 
said, and the focus on marijuana crime seemed skewed compared with 
actual drug crime.

Supervisor Merita Callaway was the only supervisor, and perhaps the 
only commenter, to avoid the medical marijuana issue entirely, 
reiterating that, "This is a land use ordinance.

"We're not talking about the pros and cons of medical marijuana - 
that's a given in this state."

The board directed the Planning Department to revise the ordinance 
based on feedback from the meeting, and while supervisors opted not 
to convene a task force, they encouraged interested parties to submit 
their feedback directly to White. He can be reached by phone at 
754-6394 or e-mailed via the "E-mail Us" link on the Planning 
Department site at . 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake