Pubdate: Fri, 23 Aug 2013
Source: Calaveras Enterprise (CA)
Copyright: 2013 Calaveras Enterprise
Author: Lucas Youngblood


Valley Springs Store Is County's Fourth; Officials Talk Moratorium

A medical marijuana dispensary based in Stockton opened a satellite 
store in Valley Springs last week and caused county officials to 
consider taking a closer look at Calaveras County codes governing the drug.

Four of the five members of the Board of Supervisors said they would 
support putting a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries if 
it's legal to do so. This would give the county time to consider a 
policy review on medical marijuana storefronts.

"I think what needs to happen is we need to really get back and 
rewrite the ordinance and put a moratorium on any new dispensaries 
until we update the ordinance," said District 2 Supervisor Chris 
Wright. "I think that you need to have a good ordinance in there 
because you don't want these dispensaries on every street corner."

Calaveras Medical Collective set up shop Friday, Aug. 16, next to the 
Pizza Factory in La Contenta Plaza at the corner of Highway 26 and 
Vista Del Lago Drive.

According to the county Planning Department, only one of the four 
medical marijuana dispensaries in Calaveras County is in compliance 
with county code  Blue Mountain Collective in San Andreas. Dispensary 
owners throughout the county argue they are operating under state 
law, which they say conflicts with county code.

The owners of CMC have yet to apply for an administrative use permit, 
the required permit for a dispensary, according to the Planning 
Department. Tax Collector Barabra Sullivan said there was no business 
license filed under the name of Calaveras Medical Collective.

Owners of the new store declined to comment and said that all 
questions about the dispensary would be answered by their lawyer, 
Steve Whitworth. Whitworth did not confirm or deny a new dispensary 
was opening and said the owners of the shop might speak with the 
Enterprise at a later time.

Sheriff Gary Kuntz said he didn't have a problem with the new 
dispensary as long as it was operating within the law.

"I had heard they were opening one up and they have to go through the 
procedure and paperwork like anyone else," Kuntz said. "I have yet to 
see any paperwork come through my office. (The store's owner) did 
call me, and I said, 'As long as you're under the state law and 
county law, I have no problem with it.' I think they're coming from 
the Stockton area."

Stockton Medical Collective is the parent company of the new 
Calaveras dispensary, and it has a storied past in the Central Valley.

According to a story in the Stockton Record printed in late 2011, 
federal agents sent a letter to SMC's landlords that threatened 
prison time and $500,000 in fines if they didn't drop the medical 
marijuana dispensary as a tenant.

"This letter puts you on notice," it read. "We will vigorously 
enforce the prohibitions against cultivation and distribution of 
marijuana, even if such activities are permitted by state law."

"It hurt," said CMC's manager at the time, Jason Elola, according to 
the Record story. "Everyone cried that day."

After its closure, the shop reopened across the street in March of 
this year and continues to operate.

Eloa faces three counts of theft of utility services, one count of 
manufacturing a controlled substance and plant cultivation and one 
count of possession of marijuana for sale, according to the San 
Joaquin County Superior Court Clerk's office.

He was held in lieu of $250,000 bail at the county jail before being 
released on his own recognizance.

Whitworth did not respond to questions regarding whether Elola has 
ties to the dispensary in Valley Springs.

Ever since Little Trees Wellness Collective  an unpermitted 
dispensary in Arnold  opened in June, medical marijuana code reform 
has been on the radar of county officials.

"I want to convey to folks who want to be involved (in this type of 
business) to work really well with local government to make it 
happen," Supervisor Wright said, shortly after Little Trees opened. 
"Local authorities are here to help you out and make sure it's done 
the right way. We need to look at zoning requirements," he continued. 
"It probably needs to be loosened up a little bit."

Wright was addressing the special zoning that dispensaries are 
required to have before they set up shop.

The zoning districts are called CP professional offices districts. 
Little Trees Wellness Collective, Forgotten Knowledge in Valley 
Springs and now Calaveras Medical Collective all started their 
businesses in zones other than CP professional. Some believe the 
zoning restrictions are too stringent in Calaveras County. Sixty-six 
parcels in Calaveras are zoned CP and 11 of them are vacant, 
according to the Planning Department.

"I think the new place in Arnold was the catalyst for the (possible) 
policy reform," said District 3 Supervisor Merita Callaway. "The 
reform isn't a reaction to the people who are moving here now, but a 
reaction the one in Arnold. It was a catalyst to remind the board and 
County Counsel to get code dialed in a little bit tighter and making 
sure it's up to date."

Though it isn't clear if code reform will mean more or less freedom 
for medical marijuana dispensaries, even medical marijuana 
enthusiasts think two stores in one town are too much.

Tom Liberty, director of Collective Patient Resources, a medical 
marijuana advocacy group based in Calaveras County, said he doesn't 
want to see too many dispensaries in the county.

"Collective Patient Re-sources is concerned that these circumstances 
may have created a situation where some individuals may be emboldened 
to the point of setting up shop regardless of patient need or 
appropriate locale," Liberty said "... We do not want to wake up six 
months from now with three marijuana stores within six blocks of each other."

Liberty suggested a hold be placed on new dispensaries for now. This 
would keep new storefronts from opening until the county can draft a 
new policy.

"I feel like we need to come up with a moratorium until we get a 
handle on how we want this policy to look," District 1 Supervisor 
Cliff Edson said. "My concern is that if we seem like we're an open 
door with no real restrictions, dispensaries could flood the market, 
and I don't think our citizens would like that. (We should do) 
whatever it takes to give us time to visit this issue."

No board member gave a timeline for when medical marijuana policy 
might be discussed.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom