Marijuana Dispensary Death Watch: Latest Bans And Moratoriums


Graphic: Jim Wheeler
Safe access to marijuana remains a distant dream to many patients — even in states which have legalized medical use

​One by one, the lights are winking out. In city after city, town after town, in states where medical marijuana is now legal, patients who had dared hope they would at last have safe access to the medicine recommended by their doctors are having those hopes dashed.

The problem? Political cowardice and the panicked reaction of the status quo.

Every week brings more news of freaked out city councils and county boards of supervisors who desperately want to appear to be “doing something” — anything — about the proliferation of marijuana dispensaries.

This phenomenon is so far mostly confined to California and to a lesser extent Colorado, but it’s unfortunately also starting to happen in Michigan and Montana.
Rather than showing true leadership by showing genuine concern for patients and communities, too many local government officials are going for the easy, knee-jerk reaction. The level of disregard for the intentions of the voters — who clearly expressed their will by legalizing medical marijuana — is breathtaking.

Unfortunately, these skittish politicians are usually forgetting that majority support exists in most areas — even those considered “conservative” — for keeping dispensaries open and preserving safe access for patients. (Even San Diego, for example, in a poll showed 77 percent support for regulating dispensaries rather than eliminating them.)
Here are the latest breaking stories from the battle lines.

State is California unless otherwise noted:
• Centennial, Colo., is readying for a legal fight after a dispensary and three of its patients brought against the city Nov. 30 after it forced CannaMart to close on the grounds that the sale of marijuana violated the city’s land development code, which prohibit businesses which break federal law. “There are issues when a municipal government seeks to enforce federal law in a way to strip away constitutional rights,” said Jessica Corry, an attorney for the plaintiffs. (Colorado’s medical marijuana law is part of its state constitution.)
• Clearlake Planning Commission last week at a public hearing heard from a frustrated group of community members asking them not to follow many of a proposed dispensary ordinance’s more limiting provisions, including a three-dispensary limit for the city. Angie Decoux told the commission that some of the ordinances are “silly,” such as the establishments being required to close on holidays.
• Colorado State Senator Chris Romer said his plan to regulate the medical marijuana industry could drive about half the dispensaries in the state out of business. Romer said he expects to file his legislation this week. The bill would allow Colorado to license medical marijuana clinics and growers after they’ve been licensed by cities and counties. He said dispensary owners and managers would have to undergo criminal background checks.
• Long Beach City Prosecutor Tom Reeves, who has been extremely vocal about shutting down dispensaries (he submitted a guest editorial to the local newspaper calling the businesses “dope dealers”) plans to run for City Attorney. “Might Mr. Reeves be interested in generating some heat (political or otherwise) for himself on the residue of ‘reefer madness’?” asks the Long Beach Post.
• Los Altos will allow no dispensaries under two new ordinances approved this week by the city council. City Attorney Jolie Houston encouraged council members to pass an ordinance “because other cities have seen pot clubs spring up” since federal authorities backed off from prosecuting medical marijuana co-ops. Following “almost no discussion,” council members voted unanimously, 4-0, to approve an “urgency” ordinance effective immediately as well as a “regular” ordinance that will take effect in February.

Photo: Shay Sowden
Patients should be able to focus on wellness, not on fighting City Hall.

​• Los Angeles City Council delayed action again on Wednesday because of concerns that the latest plan might ban dispensaries in some parts of L.A. Council President Eric Garcetti and Councilman Ed Reyes pushed for the delay in order to better understand the impact of a last-minute provision to prohibit clinics within 1,000 feet of homes.
• Orland City Council voted Monday to extend for another 45 days a moratorium on marijuana distribution in the city. The city freaked in October after a group requested an application for a business license for a dispensary; the group hasn’t yet submitted the application.
• Royal Oak, Mich., Planning Commission will consider banning, rather than regulating, dispensaries. Police Chief Christopher Jahnke urged the panel Tuesday to “consider going in a different direction” hours before it met to make a recommendation on amending the city’s zoning ordinance. The police chief recommended a similar ordinance to Livonia, Mich., which he said adopted an ordinance that prohibits businesses in violation of federal law. The chief’s frenzied pleading resulted from the panel’s earlier announcement that it would treat dispensaries as “normal” businesses. You can’t do that! The sky will fall!
• San Diego‘s public hearing on how to regulate dispensaries Tuesday devolved into a discussion about whether the storefronts should be allowed to operate at all. Sixteen speakers urged the council to reject the marijuana task force recommendations and ban dispensaries, while 11 speakers pushed the council to adopt the recommendations. The council decided to postpone discussion on the matter until Jan. 4. 
• Santa Barbara County will soon join a growing list of jurisdictions in California to impose a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries. The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously directed county officials to return no later than Jan. 19 with an ordinance for a temporary ban on pot shops in unincorporated areas of the county. Santa Barbara would bring to seven the number of counties to enact a moratorium. Eight others have outright bans.
• Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Department officials claim that the collectives there are operating illegally and called for the establishments to be “investigated and shut down.” Attending a public hearing originally called to give community members a chance to voice opinions about an ordinance the council is considering which would impose regulations on medical marijuana establishments, Detective Darrel Lemos stated flatly, “The law clearly states
that you cannot sell marijuana.” Asked by an attendee if law enforcement plans to shut down the Siskiyou County collectives, he replied, “Yes. We’re going to shut all of them down.” Lemos was accompanied and echoed by Capt. John Villani.
• South San Francisco City Council extended a moratorium Dec. 9 on marijuana collectives for an additional 10 months and 15 days, adding to the original 45-day moratorium. City officials claimed they were trying to determine how collectives might fit into zoning rules, while balancing the wishes of those concerned about dispensaries’ impact on surrounding communities with those advocating for the herb’s compassionate use.
• Whitefish, Montana, City Council has temporarily banned medical marijuana shops in the city limits while it develops zoning rules. The council voted 4-3 Monday for a six-month ban on dispensaries. The city’s planning department requested the ordinance after receiving several inquiries about zoning for the stores. Whitefish City Manager Chuck Stearns said medical marijuana shops have a right to exist, but the city wants to find the “appropriate place” for them.
• Whittier City Council on Tuesday night voted unanimously to impose a 45-day moratorium on any new dispensaries. Mayor Bob Henderson said this temporary ban will give the city time to amend its existing ordinance “to ensure Whittier isn’t flooded with more of the businesses.”