Journal of the California Cannabis Research Medical
Cities and Counties Impose
Restrictions But Cannabis Clubs Keep Opening
By Dale Gieringer
Communities are passing legislation to deal with the growing number of medical
cannabis dispensaries in California.
More than 120 dispensaries, patients’ co-ops and delivery services are now
listed on the California NORML website (www.canorml.org), up from 90 six months
ago. Among them are new groups in previously underserved Southern California
cities, including San Diego, and Long Beach. West Hollywood has become a major
center of action in the Los Angeles area with seven dispensaries, all of which
opened in the past year.
In the Bay Area, the city of Oakland closed four out of eight downtown dispensaries
in June 2004, but afterwards six new ones cropped up in an unincorporated area
to the south. Neighbors expressed dismay and Alameda County supervisors responded
with a moratorium on new clubs. The supervisors are considering further legislation
to regulate and limit the number of clubs in the county, a la Oakland, Hayward
and Berkeley. Local medical cannabis activists are hopeful that they can ward
off draconian restrictions proposed by the Alameda County sheriff, which include
prohibiting on-site consumption, banning sales of food (including cannabis
edibles), drink, and “paraphernalia,” and requiring drug testing for employees.
Santa Rosa is also considering regulating cannabis clubs. City officials are
strongly supportive of medical cannabis, but concerned by a recent spurt of
“They see lots of young men going into these places, and don’t know what to do,” explains
a local patient advocate.
Several cities and counties around the state have moved to pass ordinances
in response to applications from would-be dispensary operators. Some towns,
including Davis, Willits, Fremont, Dixon and Rancho Cordova have passed moratoriums
prohibiting the opening of dispensaries pending further study by city officials.
Others, including Citrus Heights, Elk Grove, Roseville, Plymouth and Auburn
have passed ordinances explicitly regulating them.
San Leandro enacted a preventive moratorium aimed at warding off the flood
of clubs from nearby Hayward and Alameda County. The city council voted 4-0
(with three members absent) to extend the ban until November 2006.
Sacramento County has put a freeze on new clubs while it ponders an ordinance
to regulate them. At least one dispensary is already operating in the county.
The Calaveras County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to permit dispensaries
to operate in professional office zones. The move came in response to a request
by patient Kim Cue to set up a facility in San Andreas. However, Sheriff Dennis
Downum, warned that the federal government would likely shut it down just like
the Roseville club. Downum reportedly has sicced the feds on local Prop. 215
In Riverside County, Temecula moved to ban dispensaries after receiving an
application inquiry from Compassionate Caregivers, which operates dispensaries
at a half dozen locations around the state.
Many communities are proceeding cautiously pending
the Supreme Court decision in the Raich case.
Many communities are proceeding cautiously pending the Supreme Court
decision in the Raich case. Placerville approved a permit for the city’s
first cannabis dispensary, but only on condition that the federal government
permit use of the drug. The San Luis Obispo City Council voted to impose
a moratorium until the Raich ruling is announced.
Other towns in the area, including Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach and Santa Maria
have been considering similar action.
In early February, 2005, Huntington Beach imposed a moratorium on medical dispensaries
even though there had been no applications. The city attorney said she was
awaiting “guidance from the courts.”
If the Supreme Court rules against Raich, more communities are apt to close
the door to dispensaries. Some observers foresee a federal crackdown in that
Regardless of the court’s decision, however, the fact remains that over-the-counter
sale of marijuana to Prop 215 patients remains illegal under state law. Under
SB420, only legally designated “primary caregivers” may receive money for their
services, and then not for profit. Those dispensaries that do operate in California
do so purely on tolerance of local authorities.
Many cities and counties remain confused about the law. Some assume incorrectly
that they are obliged to accomodate dispensaries, while others feel free to
ban them entirely. Others have failed to recognize the distinction between
dispensaries, which sell medical cannabis on a retail basis, and cooperatives
or collective gardens, in which patients share the crop amongst themselves.
While the former are not authorized by state law, the latter are explicitly
encouraged under SB 420.
This has become an issue in the city of Fresno, which passed an ordinance prohibiting
medical marijuana facilities that serve more than two patients. Fresno resident
James Mitchell, who grows for two dozen fellow patients, has objected that
the ordinance should not apply to his activities, since he is operating a collective
garden. The council is working on another ordinance to regulate where medical
marijuana can be grown in the city.
The city of Clovis also passed a two-patient limit on cannabis providers.
In mid-December Fresno County banned dispensaries in unincorporated areas and
passed an ordinance limiting sales to two patients.
Ukiah residents have complained about the skunky
odor emanating from the city’s many marijuana gardens
In cannabis-friendly Mendocino County, some residents of Ukiah have
complained about the skunky odor emanating from the city’s many marijuana
gardens and police have noted a spate of marijuana-related thefts and
robberies. Addressing the issue as a nuisance, the city is considering
an ordinance to limit the number of outdoor plants patients can grow
to three. Willits is considering a similar ordinance.
SB 420 Implementation
In the absence of state IDs, many law enforcement officials are citing legal
patients even when they present valid physician’s recommendations. In particular,
the California Highway Patrol has an official policy of citing and and confiscating
marijuana from everyone with marijuana, no matter how well his or her patient
status is documented. Patients must then go to court to recover their medicine
and have the citation dismissed.
One of the CHP’s victims was Greg Ainsworth, a non-driving paraplegic who was
cited while sitting in his wheelchair alongside the road outside a stalled
vehicle on I-5 near Los Banos. A patrolman smelled marijuana and cited him
for less than one ounce despite his Oakland ID card. Ainsworth had to make
a140-mile round trip to court to reclaim his medicine.
The CHP explained that they ignore Prop 215 since there is no SB 420 card program.
This policy has been confirmed in official CHP documents posted by Prop 215
defendant Jason Fishbain at www.stophippieprofiling.org
California NORML attorneys charge that the CHP policy is unconstitutional since
it subjects patients to citation and seizure without probable cause. A lawsuit
to challenge the CHP’s policy was filed by Cal NORML and Americans for Safe
Access in mid-February.
The CHP has also been citing patients under Vehicle Code 23222 for misdemeanor
possession of less than one ounce of marijuana in a vehicle while driving.
Due to an apparent oversight in drafting SB420 doesn’t include VC 23222 in
the list of offenses for which patients are protected from arrest, even though
felony transportation of more than one ounce (Health and Safety Code 11360)
is included. Ironically, therefore, SB 420 appears to protect patients who
drive with more, but not less than one ounce in their vehicle. Attorneys believe
that this inconsistency is vulnerable to court challenge. California NORML
is looking for test cases to establish that patients should be protected from
citation for VC2322.