Pubdate: Sat, 04 Feb 2012
Source: Arcata Eye (CA)
Copyright: 2012 Arcata Eye
Author: Daniel Mintz


HUMBOLDT -- With legal issues unresolved and federal threats still 
looming, the county's moratorium on medical marijuana dispensary 
applications has been extended by 10-and-a-half months.

Unanimously approved at the Jan. 24 Board of Supervisors meeting, the 
moratorium freezes the numerous dispensary applications that are 
being processed and bars new ones.

And since it seeks to "preserve the status quo," supervisors agreed 
to add language that allows existing dispensaries to re-apply for 
permits if they expire during the moratorium period. One of three 
dispensaries in the unincorporated area, the Hummingbird Healing 
Center in Myrtletown, is in that situation.

Deputy County Counsel Davina Smith told supervisors that extending 
the moratorium that was approved last December is "the safest legal course."

Smith said the county can be sued if it continues to process 
dispensary applications. The "increased federal enforcement climate" 
that has already driven the closure of the Humboldt Medical Supply 
dispensary in Arcata is another reason to play it safe and freeze 
dispensary applications, Smith continued.

A third reason has to do with what might happen a year to 18 months 
from now, when the state's Supreme Court is expected to make a key 
decision on dispensary permitting.

Smith said it would be "unfair" to allow dispensaries to open without 
knowing whether or not the Supreme Court will uphold a Court of 
Appeals ruling that confirmed the applicability of federal laws 
against marijuana.

If the appeals court's ruling is upheld, it could "make it 
impossible" for dispensaries to continue operating, said Smith.

During public comment, Alison Sterling-Nichols, the executive 
director of the Emerald Growers Association, a newly-formed 
collaboration between advocacy groups in Humboldt and Mendocino 
counties, said that the appeals court ruling is in suspense and 
shouldn't be used as a basis for decision-making.

Supervisors took their staff's legal advice and supported the 
moratorium extension but Supervisor Mark Lovelace disagreed with a 
main aspect of the extension's wording. It states that establishing 
dispensaries creates "an immediate threat to the public's health, 
safety and welfare" and Lovelace said the real threat lies elsewhere 
- -- with the feds' aggressive tactics.

"The reason we're doing this is because the uncertain legal landscape 
and the federal intervention in particular makes us unable to take 
reasonable actions to protect the public health, safety and welfare," 
Lovelace said.

But Assistant County Counsel Carolyn Ruth said the wording has to be 
retained because the moratorium is directed at dispensaries. The 
impasse was resolved by inserting language from another section of 
the extension which refers to the regulatory dilemmas.

Later in the meeting, County Administrative Officer Phillip 
Smith-Hanes updated supervisors on the development of a county 
ordinance that covers outdoor medical marijuana growing.

It was to be modeled on Mendocino County's permit-based system but 
federal enforcement has made that approach risky so Humboldt will 
pursue a registration-based system similar to one used in Tehama County.

When Smith-Hanes said approval of an outdoor ordinance isn't likely 
before this summer -- well past the start of the outdoor growing 
season -- Supervisor Ryan Sundberg pushed for quicker action, saying 
he's gotten numerous complaints about the odor of outdoor grows.

Supervisor Clif Clendenen said patients' rights also have to be 
considered and lower-income medical users aren't likely to have 
spacious enough properties for buffers.

But on Sundberg's urging, supervisors agreed to direct staff to 
"expedite" work on the ordinance.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom