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Medical Marijuana Dispensaries in Placer County Nixed



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The Placer County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to prohibit marijuana dispensaries, collectives and cooperatives from setting up shop in unincorporated areas of the county.

Board members based the decision on three findings:

· Marijuana dispensaries tend to have detrimental impacts on community health, safety and welfare, including increases in crimes such as illegal drug activity, robberies of people leaving dispensaries, loitering, use of fraudulent identification cards, and dispensary burglaries. The finding was based in part on a “White Paper on Marijuana Dispensaries” put out by the California Police Chiefs Association.

· The board action is consistent with provisions of state law that allow the use of medical marijuana when recommended by physicians. The prohibition on marijuana dispensaries, collectives and cooperatives in unincorporated areas of Placer 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 patients.

· The board action is consistent with federal law, which prohibits the cultivation, possession and distribution of marijuana.

Board members also voted to clarify that the production and composting of cannabis is not included in the county definitions of “crop production” and “agricultural processing.”

The county began researching the issue in response to requests for business licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries.

In a presentation to the board, county staff emphasized that Tuesday’s action will not affect the ability of facilities such as hospices and residential care facilities to provide marijuana to their residents in accordance with state law.

Staff also emphasized the issue before board members Tuesday was whether medical marijuana businesses should be permitted as land uses in Placer County, not whether the board supports or opposes the use of medical marijuana as allowed under state law.

Board members voted 4-1 to approve the prohibition on medical marijuana dispensaries as a permitted land use.

The board also decided the county should continue studying the issue and consider potential refinements to the action taken Tuesday. Supervisor Jim Holmes emphasized he wants time to review new information presented by the public during Tuesday’s meeting.

Fifth District Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery cast the dissenting vote, asking for a moratorium on allowing medical marijuana dispensaries while the county continues reviewing the issue. Supervisor Montgomery emphasized that the municipal advisory councils in her district all took slightly different positions on the issue, but all opposed prohibiting dispensaries as recommended by county staff.

“All five MACs were united in being opposed to what the county is proposing today,” Supervisor Montgomery said.

The 5th District stretches from North Auburn to North Lake Tahoe.

In January, the Planning Commission voted 5-1 to recommend approval of the proposed prohibition on medical marijuana dispensaries.

Supervisor Montgomery said adopting a temporary moratorium would allow the county to review alternatives and await the fate of a marijuana initiative that will face the state’s voters in November.

The initiative generally would allow anyone at least 21 years old to possess, cultivate and transport marijuana for personal use and would permit local governments to regulate and tax the commercial production and sale of marijuana.

The initiative would set some restrictions on marijuana use by individuals who meet the age requirement. For example, they would be prohibited from providing it to anyone who is younger than 21 and from smoking it on school grounds, in public and while minors are present.

Supervisor Rocky Rockholm, a retired sergeant from the Roseville Police Department, said a marijuana cooperative in Roseville created major problems while he was on the City Council in 2004.

“I just don’t want to open a door here,” he said while expressing his support for a prohibition on medical marijuana dispensaries.

“The permitting of medical marijuana collectives, collectives and dispensaries by local governments as a legal use or business is both a public policy issue and a contentious legal issue,” explained a report to the board by Michael J. Johnson, director of the county’s Community Development Resource Agency.

California has allowed the use of medical marijuana since the state’s voters approved Proposition 215 in 1996. Also known as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, the measure decriminalized the cultivation and use of marijuana by seriously ill individuals when its use is recommended by physicians.
Under federal law, possession of any marijuana is a misdemeanor and cultivation is a felony. Last year, however, U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced the Justice Department would not prosecute medical marijuana dispensaries that operate legally under existing state laws.

“The reaction of counties and municipalities to this situation has been decidedly mixed,” Johnson said in his report.

He reported that eight counties and about 120 cities in California have banned dispensaries and nine counties and about 30 cities have adopted ordinances regulating dispensaries. Others have adopted moratoriums that allow them to continue studying the issue and considering potential long-term options.

Tuesday’s board action will not affect the county’s identification card program for patients who qualify for medical marijuana use under state law and their primary caregivers. The program is part of a voluntary statewide identification system maintained by the California Department of Public Health.
About 70 people currently have identification cards issued by Placer County.

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