2016-01-14 / Community

With regard to medical marijuana laws, why the rush?

A look into why so many cities are taking action
By Caitlin Trude

NOT WHAT YOU THINK—Despite some misconceptions, CannaMed in Thousand Oaks does not handle medical marijuana. It employs doctors who provide medical marijuana recommendations. CannaMed is not affected by the City of Thousand Oaks’ recently enacted ban. 
KYLE JORREY/Acorn Newspapers NOT WHAT YOU THINK—Despite some misconceptions, CannaMed in Thousand Oaks does not handle medical marijuana. It employs doctors who provide medical marijuana recommendations. CannaMed is not affected by the City of Thousand Oaks’ recently enacted ban. KYLE JORREY/Acorn Newspapers City officials across the state, including those in Ventura County, are tightening regulations on medical marijuana growth, sale and distribution following the recent passage of a state law that went into effect Jan. 1 (see related story on page 1).

The rush to regulate comes on the heels of the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in early October.

The initiative, which comprises three bills—AB 243, AB 266 and SB 643—gives the state oversight of the growth, sale and delivery of the plant used as medicine by patients with a doctor’s approval, as allowed by Proposition 215.

Passed in 1996, Prop. 215 legalized medical marijuana use in the state, and a law passed in 2004 broadened the proposition to allow patients to create marijuana collectives or cooperatives.

The problem was that the law opened the door to illegal medical marijuana dispensaries seeking a huge profit rather than focusing on providing relief to patients, as well as a growing number of doctors who created a cottage industry by prescribing pot too liberally.

The state’s new law more clearly defines rules on prescriptions, transportation and growth of medical marijuana, and establishes a state agency, the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation, charged with enforcing the complex laws surrounding the drug.

All 10 cities in Ventura County, as well as its unincorporated areas, have long had laws banning the sale and large-scale cultivation of medical marijuana. But the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act requires cities to pass specifically worded laws to define rules that deal with delivery services and cultivation operations in addition to dispensaries.

Ballot measure

Though the new act gives cities ultimate control over the regulation of medical marijuana, a pending ballot initiative to legalize pot for recreational use could make the legislation a moot point.

Still, Thousand Oaks resident Sarah Armstrong, director of industry affairs for Americans for Safe Access, a Washington, D.C.-based organization promoting safe medical marijuana use, is concerned that state and Ventura County officials are banning access to the natural pain reliever too hastily.

“Watching safe access crash all over the state has been a nightmare for patients,” she said.

Several cities in California— including Camarillo, Moorpark, Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks— are racing against a March 1 deadline to review their medical marijuana restrictions.

But Armstrong said the date written in the MMRSA was an “inadvertent drafting error” by Assemblymember Jim Wood, co-author of AB 243.

Wood wrote an open letter to county and city officials on Dec. 17 stating his intent to pass urgency legislation to strike out the March deadline.

He didn’t want city lawmakers to think that just because they didn’t pass stricter laws concerning medical marijuana their cities would be inundated with marijuana grows.

“Even if my urgency measure is not signed until after March 1, the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation, the entity responsible for developing the state’s regulations, currently exists on paper only,” Wood wrote. “It will be many months before the bureau has the capacity to develop and enforce statewide regulations.”

Marijuana business licenses

Either way, medical marijuana dispensaries won’t be taking root in the county any time soon.

Ventura County assistant treasurer and tax collector Linda Le said no one has applied for a medical marijuana dispensary business license since 2000. Chris Stephens, the county’s resource management agency director, said he is not aware of any large-scale marijuana growth being permitted in individual cities.

In counties such as Santa Barbara, residents may apply for a business license to run a dispensary by showing proof of compliance with city zoning ordinances and state marijuana regulations.

That would be a problem in Ventura County, where a business owner must obtain a license through the city and all 10 cities have laws banning pot-related businesses.

Those seeking to open a medical marijuana shop in an unincorporated area of the county would face similar

Out-of-county access

Armstrong said she has a doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana for her arthritis but must travel from T.O. to Los Angeles to retrieve her medication.

At 62, she is worried it will be harder for her to make the drive as she gets older.

Armstrong is also concerned for other patients who may have difficulty obtaining treatment for cancer, Crohn’s disease and other serious illnesses.

“(County officials) don’t realize that if they’d just regulate, the taxes from the businesses would underwrite the costs of enforcement,” she said.

“Once you pass laws, patients flock to the legal businesses and the illegals quickly starve to death.”

Marijuana collectives

Besides commuting to other counties for medical marijuana, qualified Ventura

County patients have the option to grow their own pot.

According to state law, these patients may grow up to 12 immature marijuana plants or six mature plants for personal use.

These patients also have the option to join marijuana collectives— groups of medical marijuana patients who collectively grow pot for members.

Authorized by SB 420 in 2004, collectives—unlike dispensaries— are not typically associated with a storefront operation but are run on a nonprofit basis.

Armstrong belongs to two out-of-county collectives—one in Los Angeles and one in West Hollywood. She said most cities require collectives to hold business licenses or conditional-use permits to operate.

In addition, collectives must pay special taxes, legal fees and state license costs that can amount to $10,000 to stay in compliance with the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act.

“Most (medical marijuana collectives) make a living at best,” Armstrong said.

To join a collective, one must provide a doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana as well as a valid government ID and complete a lengthy membership application.

Armstrong said a collective that does not require these items is operating illegally.

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