Pubdate: Thu, 07 Jan 2016
Source: SF Weekly (CA)
Column: Chem Tales
Copyright: 2016 Village Voice Media
Author: Chris Roberts

Given the Choice, Most California Cities Are Saying 'No' To a 
Regulated Cannabis Industry


In the heart of the Central Valley, a pair of women who dress in 
habits, call themselves nuns, and refer to each other as "sister" are 
growing marijuana in the garage of their Merced tract home.

The strain the "Sisters of the Valley" are growing is high in CBD - 
the cannabinoid touted by Sanjay Gupta on CNN as the "healing-only, 
no-high" compound in cannabis - and true to nuns who are into 
cannabis rather than the crucifix, their plants are harvested 
according to the cycles of the sun and moon.

For about a year, "Sister Kate" and "Sister Darcey" have distilled 
their crop into a healing salve that they then sell on Etsy - and at 
competitive prices. (An 8-ounce jar of their "High CBD Cannabis 
Salve" is $70, a steal compared to the $88, 4-ounce spray jars found 
on dispensary shelves in South of Market, though your results may vary.)

The nuns say their operation is all about healing. It also happens to 
be part of California's biggest and most controversial cash crop, 
which means the nuns may soon face the choice of going out of 
business or being run out of town - if not ostracized from the Valley outright.

Merced's City Council is pushing an outright ban on medical marijuana 
cultivation. Faced with the choice of regulating commercial cannabis 
activity - which all 530-plus cities and counties in the state can 
now do under new state law - or banning it, the nuns' elected 
representatives are choosing to ban. And Merced isn't alone.

Since Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Medical Marijuana Regulation and 
Safety Act into law in October, cities and counties have been rushing 
to beat a March 1 deadline to regulate cannabis or ban it - or else 
be subjected to state law that expressly allows commercial cannabis activity.

That deadline is a "mistake" that somehow crept into the final 
language of the MMRSA without anyone noticing, according to Asm. Jim 
Wood (D-Healdsburg), the bill's author, and will soon be corrected by 
the Legislature, but that hasn't stopped dozens of cities and 
counties from saying "no way" to legal cannabis operations.

By mid-December, dispensary bans had been rushed through and approved 
in 19 cities, the Los Angeles Times reported. According to a running 
list kept by activists, at least 87 California local governments are 
considering or have approved bans on marijuana growing, selling, or delivery.

Only a handful of cities and counties have gone the other way and 
joined places like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Sonoma and 
Mendocino counties in allowing cannabis businesses to operate legally.

"Close to 60" places have approved bans since the MMRSA went into 
effect, says cannabis industry lobbyist Sean Donahoe. "It's nuts."

Under the new rules, commercial weed activity is expressly allowed - 
provided that the city or county where the activity is located 
expressly allows it.

Dispensary bans are nothing new. In the Bay Area, most cities in San 
Mateo and Santa Clara counties outlawed medical cannabis dispensaries 
years before statewide regulations were a possibility.

What's new is the leeway given to localities to make their own 
decisions and the ease with which the decision to ban can be made - 
thanks to some of the forces that helped craft the rules in the first place.

Most smaller cities and counties do not have their own elected or 
appointed county counsel or city attorney - lawyers who make sure 
that lawmakers' actions are legal - and rely on attorneys hired on contract.

Any law dealing with urban land use in California requires input from 
a Sacramento organization called the League of California Cities. 
Granting preference to "local control" over any state-level mandate 
and granting cities the choice to say no to marijuana activity was a 
prerequisite to getting the League to approve the MMRSA.

The contracted attorneys appear to be getting advice from the 
League's website, where model municipal ordinances - all of which 
happen to be bans - are posted for anyone to read and glean inspiration from.

The League - which claims to offer those "model bans" purely for 
"informational" purposes - did not respond to request for comment, 
but the impact is clear.

The result of "local control has been pushing a ban down everyone's 
throat," Donahue said. "There are bans on cultivation, on deliveries, 
on storefronts  for no apparent reason."

Not every municipality has gone the prohibition route. Officials in 
San Diego appear open to regulating. But the episode demonstrates 
that in most places in California, cannabis - even the legal kind - 
is still feared and treated like an unwelcome menace. Even if you are a nun.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom