Supes approve permit for controversial Westwood dispensary

Cannabis. That fiery old debate hotly rages among a divided us right here in Lassen County. Consider — Susanville residents recently collected enough signatures to force the Susanville City Council to either rescind an approved ordinance allowing commercial cannabis or put that ordinance on the ballot for the voters to approve. Tuesday, July 20, the Lassen County Board of Supervisors approved an appeal of a planning commission non-decision that could allow a dispensary in Westwood.

These are new, local skirmishes in an old war. While the ancient Chinese and other cultures freely used marijuana — often for religious purposes — here in America during the early part of the last century, jazz musicians and people coming from south of the border were our nation’s biggest cannabis users. In fact, many jazz songs openly celebrated the evil weed and its effects — Cab Calloway’s 1933 hit, “Refer Man” is just one of many, many examples.

Fearing the use of pot would grow, during the 1930s the federal government made marijuana illegal, and the 1936 the film “Refer Madness” went so far as to suggest smoking marijuana just once leads to addiction, insanity and lower morals. Of course, the hippies made grass a staple of the counterculture in the 1960s.

For the pro-cannabis supporters, the debate’s tide turned big time in 1996 when California voters — who rejected the legalization of marijuana in 1972 (Proposition 19) — approved Proposition 215 allowing medicinal cannabis use. They got another huge boost in 2016 when voters approved Proposition 64 — legalizing the recreational use of the drug.

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On June 7 the Lassen County Planning Commission failed to act on an application to “operate a cannabis dispensary in an existing commercial building in Westwood” near the intersection of Highway 36 and Mooney Road.

The applicant, Raviindee Saudhu, appealed, and the matter came before the supervisors who held a public hearing and then approved a use permit for the dispensary by a 3-2 vote with supervisors Chris Gallagher, Tom Hammond and Jeff Hemphill voting aye and Aaron Albaugh and Gary Bridges voting nay.

Local social media exploded after the supervisor’s decision.

“It’s kind of a pre-permit,” Gallagher, the focus of many of the social media barbs, explained in an interview with Lassen News. “It could still not happen if we can’t finish the whole state process. I don’t anticipate seeking anything there for probably close to a year.”

Gallagher said he understands the complaints and concerns from community members, but he added, “when Proposition 64 passed, it was pretty much over.”

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He recounted a recent conversation he had with an anti-marijuana advocate and her pastor.

“This is all about personal choice,” Gallagher said he explained. “People have a choice if they want to smoke cigarettes. People have a choice if they want to chew tobacco. People have a choice if they want to drink alcohol. People have a choice in California if they want to smoke weed or use it for medical purposes. That’s all their choice. I’m not a recreational marijuana guy. I voted no on Proposition 64, but I’ve never been against people using medical marijuana. If you think it’s helping you — it’s been proven to help people with cancer who can’t eat to get an appetite — I’m all for that. Go for it.”

In another interview with Lassen News Albaugh expressed a different view.

“I made a motion to deny it, Gary seconded. and it failed on a 3-2 vote,” Albaugh said. “Then the other guys made a motion to grant the appeal and it passed, so I guess we’ll have another dispensary in Lassen County over there in Westwood.”

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“I think we’re taking the wrong path on this,” Albaugh said. “I think it’s going to end up costing us more money than we’re ever going to get out of it. It might be good in the short term, but in the long term, I don’t know.”

He said he also is concerned about how much stronger the modern version of the drug has become.

“There’s a lot of genetics involved,” Albaugh said, noting the changes he’s seen as a farmer. “Look at the corn you can produce now compared to the corn back in the 1970s. And the wheat and all the different crops. They’ve all been bred differently to be more productive, and I think it’s the same thing with the marijuana and the THC.”

Albaugh also expressed concern about how the younger generation is influenced by the habits of their elders and how the dispensary and smoking marijuana might affect them.

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According to the resolution approved by the supervisors, the use permit is consistent with the county’s General Plan and the Westwood/Clear Creek Area Plan and would not be “detrimental to the health, safety, peace, morals, comfort and general welfare of persons residing or working in the neighborhood of such use, nor be detrimental or injurious to property and improvements in the neighborhood or to the general welfare.”

Both Albaugh and Bridges disagreed with the second portion of the resolution.

The applicant has three years “to secure the required authorization to operate,” and must comply with many additional county requirements including parking, lighting, noise, hours of operation, signage, taxes, etc.

According to the California Secretary of State’s website — “10 Easy Steps to Start a Cannabis Business Entity in California”— these are the steps one must follow to operate a cannabis dispensary in California: 1. Choose an entity type and business name; 2. Register your business with the Secretary of State; 3. Register a fictitious business name (if necessary); 4. Obtain required city and/or county license, permit or other authorization; 5. Obtain a Seller’s Permit and Cannabis Tax Permit from the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (if necessary); 6. Obtain required state license(s); 7. Employer responsibilities  (obtain a federal Employer Identification Number, for example); 8. (File) Tax information; 9. (Comply with) Ongoing Business Registration Requirements; and, 10. (Register) Trademarks and Service Marks.

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For more information on the state requirements, go to cannabizfile.sos.ca.gov.