Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2010 • Supes ban pot dispensaries, cultivation in county

Lassen County residents won’t have to fear large-scale marijuana gardens or medical marijuana dispensaries in their neighborhoods.

The Lassen County’s Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance “banning the establishment and operation of medical marijuana dispensaries and restricting the cultivation of medical marijuana within the county” by a 4-1 vote Tuesday, Nov. 23. The ordinance takes effect Thursday, Dec. 23.

Tim Ziegler poses with an immature marijuana plant at his Johnstonville Road garden earlier this summer. A new county ordinance that will take effect later this month bans such outdoor grows.

The board did not vote on a second proposed ordinance based on the one in place in Los Angeles that allows the cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana authorized and regulated by city-issued use permits.

According to the newly adopted ordinance, a qualified patient with a recommendation from a physician or a county-issued medical marijuana identification card and a primary caregiver may cultivate and provide medical marijuana without violating the ordinance.

“A ‘medical marijuana dispensary’ shall not include qualified patients, persons with an identification card and/or primary caregivers,” the ordinance reads.

The use of medical marijuana in California is authorized by the voter-approved Compassion Use Act of 1996 and by SB 420 — approved by the California legislature and signed by the governor in 2003.

District 1 Supervisor Bob Pyle, District 3 Supervisor Lloyd Keefer, District 4 Supervisor Brian Dahle and District 5 Supervisor Jack Hanson voted aye, and District 2 Supervisor Jim Chapman voted no.

Chapman said he opposed approval of the ordinance because county staffers had not met with medical marijuana users to discuss their interests and needs.

Responding to a question from Chapman, Maury Anderson, Lassen County’s Department of Planning and Building Services director, acknowledged he had not met with medical marijuana users to seek their input prior to drafting the ordinance. Anderson said county staff followed the board’s direction to draft a pair of proposed ordinances regarding medical marijuana in Lassen County

Chapman alleged not talking to the medical marijuana users “shortchanged” the public discourse.

“I think that is a character flaw,” Chapman said. “I have no problem voting on the ordinance to ban … but the problem is no matter what we vote on, because of our unwillingness or inability to engage the people who are involved with the issue to try to understand what the issue is in a more full sense, I think creates a defect in our deliberative process. It’s one thing to vote no intelligently, and it’s one thing to vote no because I don’t want to listen to what the facts are.”

Pyle and Keefer objected to Chapman’s point of view. They said the board directed county staff to draft the proposed ordinances after receiving public comment and noted the medical marijuana users have had numerous opportunities to participate in the discussion at board meetings and at a public hearing held in May at Jensen Hall.

Pyle noted several members of the public had just addressed the board at this meeting seeking the approval of commercial medical marijuana operations within the county.

“The buck stops here,” Keefer said. “We were the ones who directed staff to come back with a proposed ordinance to ban, and we also directed staff to come back with a proposed ordinance based on the L.A. model. So, I think staff has basically done what we as a board have asked them to do.”

Pyle asked Anderson if the county ordinance would affect cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana with the city of Susanville. Anderson said the ordinance will have no effect within the city.

Keefer also noted the county has issued only 24 medical marijuana cards authorized by SB 420.

County staff said Lassen County’s newly enacted ordinance banning marijuana cultivation and distribution by anyone other than a medical marijuana patient or a primary caregiver complies with both state and federal law.

According to the newly approved ordinance, the federal Controlled Substances Act prohibits the manufacture, distribution or dispensing of marijuana and the United States Supreme Court has ruled the federal government has the authority to prohibit such activities despite the Compassionate Use Act approved by the voters in 1996 and Senate Bill 420 that took effect in 2004.

While the county’s ordinance complies with federal law, it also complies with state law because the ordinance “will not impact a qualified patient or primary caregiver’s right to cultivate and possess medical marijuana pursuant to state law … The prohibition of marijuana dispensaries, collectives and cooperatives in the unincorporated areas of Lassen County will not affect an individual’s right to cultivate and possess medical marijuana and will not prevent primary health care providers from dispensing medical marijuana to their patients.”

According to the ordinance, “The cultivation of marijuana … is prohibited in all zones and districts of the unincorporated areas of Lassen County and shall be considered a public nuisance unless said cultivation can be demonstrated to be for use only by a qualifying patient.”

Any person convicted of violating the ordinance shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to a fine of not more than $1,000 and six months in county jail. Those convicted also will be responsible for the costs of the legal action including attorney’s fees, expert’s fees and other costs.

The Compassionate Use Act of 1996
California voters approved the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 (found in Health and Safety Code Section 11362.5) allowing seriously ill Californians the right to use medical marijuana when the use “is deemed appropriate and has been recommended by a physician who has determined that the person’s health would benefit from the use of marijuana in the treatment of cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraine or any other illness for which marijuana provides relief” — ensuring such users and their primary caregivers “are not subject to criminal prosecution or sanction.”

The CUA also encourages the federal and state government to “implement a plan to provide for the safe and affordable distribution of marijuana to all patients in medical need of marijuana.”

Senate Bill 420
Senate Bill 420 (found in Health and Safety Code Sections 11362.7 through 11362.83) provides a number of legal definitions and guidelines to implement the CUA. The bill took effect Jan. 1, 2004.

SB 420 allows patients to possess up to six mature or 12 immature marijuana plants and up to one-half pound of dried, processed marijuana, although the counties may apply differing standards.

It also creates a voluntary patient identification card system administered by county health departments and other provisions to protect medical marijuana patients and their caregivers from arrest

Lassen County Sheriff Steve Warren continues his opposition to medical marijuana
Pyle, chairman of the Lassen County Board of Supervisors, asked Warren for his comments as the board considered approval of a new county ordinance banning large-scale cultivation and medical marijuana dispensaries in the county Tuesday, Nov. 23.

Warren said his opposition to the use of marijuana is well known to everyone, and he opposes medical marijuana facilities being operated as for-profit businesses.  He said the board should remember the issue is medical marijuana and its use as a medicine.

“I think it would be a travesty, to tell you the truth, to go out and allow dispensaries or co-ops or whatever else we want to call it in Lassen County when that doesn’t really have anything to do with medical marijuana,” Warren said. “We’re not in the marijuana business, and we shouldn’t allow anyone else to be in the marijuana business except the medical people who are making the prescriptions and recommendations and the people who need to have it … Marijuana has its uses in the medical world. Growing marijuana doesn’t have a place in Lassen County.”