Pubdate: Thu, 10 Oct 2013
Source: Record, The (Stockton, CA)
Copyright: 2013 The Record
Author: Dana M. Nichols


Dispensaries Spur Lode Economy, but Officials May Alter Ordinance

SAN ANDREAS - Calaveras County now has four medical marijuana 
dispensaries, twice as many as Stockton, a city with more than six 
times as many residents.

Part of the reason: Dispensaries here operate pretty much in the 
open, while the businesses are restricted or even banned in many 
nearby communities, such as Stockton.

Calaveras County's medical marijuana ordinance allows the 
dispensaries, although only one of the four storefronts is in full 
compliance with all county zoning and permitting rules.

After years of complaining about how they were losing retail dollars 
to big-box stores in neighboring counties, leaders here now actually 
have an industry that is luring customers from those same neighbors. 
But they aren't bragging about it.

"Now they are coming to Calaveras to shop. I am not sure we want to 
be known for that, to tell you the truth," said Board of Supervisors 
Chairwoman Merita Callaway.

Callaway said that county leaders are looking in the next few months 
to revise the medical marijuana ordinance. One issue: The existing 
ordinance requires that dispensaries be in places zoned for 
professional offices, and there are relatively few such zones in the 
county. Most storefronts available to rent for businesses are in 
commercial zones.

On Oct. 1, Calaveras County Counsel Janis Elliot sent a letter to the 
three non-compliant dispensaries warning them to come into compliance 
by Dec. 2 or face a "civil enforcement action."

County leaders fear that dispensaries will continue to proliferate if 
they don't enforce the county code.

Representatives of the dispensaries say that the enforcement action 
could shut down safe, legal places for patients to get medicine.

"Maybe there's a political solution to this," said George Mull, an 
attorney who represents Calaveras Medical Collective, which opened 
this summer next to the Pizza Factory just off Highway 26 in Valley 
Springs. "I think the best thing for everybody is to avoid court and 
sit down and see if there's a compromise that can meet everybody's needs."

Mull said that other than failing to find a spot to rent that is in a 
professional office zone, he believes his clients' dispensary is 
complying with state and local laws.

Callaway said she has received no complaints about dispensaries such 
as the Little Trees Wellness Collective that opened this year in 
Arnold in her district. And though some of her constituents worry 
that medical marijuana businesses will in some way harm the 
community, she has other constituents who are customers.

"I have had people that have totally surprised me say 'Merita, I do 
medical marijuana and I have a card.' These are your retired 
engineer, your retired banker."

Medical marijuana business operators in Calaveras County confirm that 
their customer base is largely retirees facing serious health issues.

"So far, all of our patients are going through chemo or some sort of 
problem they have. They are being recommended to us directly through 
their doctor," said Alex Gomez, who late this summer began operating 
his Land of Lakes delivery service in the Valley Springs and San Andreas areas.

Gomez acknowledges that when he formerly operated a delivery service 
in Contra Costa County, some customers appeared to be recreational 
users even though they had obtained medical pot recommendations. In 
Calaveras, in contrast, he said he's been contacted only by customers 
with serious medical needs.

Gomez said he and his partners had initially considered opening a 
storefront, which would have been Calaveras County's fifth. But with 
uncertainty over county regulation of storefronts and with strong 
demand for the delivery service, he said he's going to stick with 
delivery for now.

Little Trees Wellness Collective in Arnold offers both delivery and a 
store location. And since opening early this summer, the business has 
grown to the point where owner Jeremy Carlson said he now employs 
three full-time workers and one part-timer.

Carlson said many of his customers also spend money in restaurants 
and other stores in Arnold.

"We have a pretty large portion of our clients that come up from 
Tuolumne County," Carlson said.

Carlson acknowledged that his store site on Highway 4 in Arnold lacks 
the required zoning. But he said he's been proactively reaching out 
to government officials to show that he is otherwise complying with the rules.

"We are working with the county. We didn't just open up and hope for 
the best," Carlson said.

Callaway confirmed that she had met with Carlson.

"The place was clean. Very nice. FedEx was even delivering to them," 
Callaway said.

The managers for Forgotten Knowledge, a dispensary that has been 
operating in Valley Springs since 2010, did not respond to messages 
asking for comment. Forgotten Knowledge has been in violation of the 
county zoning code since it opened, county officials say.

Gretchen Seagraves operates Blue Mountain Collective in San Andreas, 
which opened in 2011 and is the only dispensary that does have all 
required Calaveras County permits. The business is in a 
professional-office zoned site not far from the Department of Motor 
Vehicles office on Mountain Ranch Road.

Seagraves said all the competition from new dispensaries and delivery 
services has cut into her business. She also said complying with 
county permit rules puts her at a disadvantage.

Other medical pot outlets in the county, for example, sell edible 
forms of marijuana. She can't do that because of restrictions in her 
use permit.

Seagraves' hope is that any reform of the medical pot ordinance will 
level the playing field.

"I wish they all had to go through what I went through in order to 
open. If you don't get a business license, don't get a permit, it is 
not as hard," she said.

In Stockton, meanwhile, at least two dispensaries appear to be 
operating despite a city ban. Stockton Medical Collective has an 
active Facebook page listing products and business hours for a store 
at 1580 Report Ave.

A woman who answered the phone at the store Friday declined to give 
her name and claimed the business is only a small delivery service.

Attorney Dorji Roberts of El Cerrito, who formerly represented 
Stockton Medical Collective, said Friday he'd heard the business had 
transitioned to a delivery-only service.

"My understanding is that they did close," Roberts said.

Mull confirmed that many of the same people sit on the boards of the 
nonprofit entities that operate Stockton Medical Collective and 
Calaveras Medical Collective.

A second apparent Stockton medical pot shop at 1804 Country Club 
Blvd. operates under at least two names: Ten Times Agriculture Inc. 
and Stockton Specialties. That store is listed in online 
advertisements. No one responded to a message left on the store's phone.

If Calaveras County does shut down Calaveras Medical Collective, then 
it will mean that Chris Shackleford, 21, of Valley Springs will have 
to drive farther to get the medicine he uses to treat insomnia, 
possibly out of county.

"Most other dispensaries don't carry edibles," Shackleford said after 
a visit to the store.
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