A funny thing happened on the way to Tuesday’s vote to ban new medical marijuana dispensaries in Fresno County: Existing dispensaries supported the moratorium and pleaded for new regulations.
They got their initial wish when county supervisors voted to pass a 45-day ordinance banning new pot shops, which likely will be extended in August. Whether new regulations will result is less clear, according to Fresno attorney Brenda Linder.
“I represent four collectives who self-regulate because the city and the county would not get on board as far as initiating regulations,” Linder told supervisors.
“The moratorium to freeze everything until the county can figure out how to appropriately zone and regulate the operation of these facilities is probably appropriate,” Linder said. “Otherwise it will keep growing and there may be some irresponsible collectives, groups or operators who open up out there and cause additional problems.”
Some of those problems were highlighted by county Sheriff Margaret Mims, who provided statistics showing burglaries and other calls for service at the county’s 15 known dispensaries. Some of those service calls were disputed by dispensary operators attending the board hearing, including Stanley Cummins of California Medicinal Co-op in Friant, a rural community north of Fresno.
“You could drive out there any day of the week and see there’s not one person out front,” Cummins said. “We could allow our patients to smoke their medication on site if we wanted to. We don’t let this happen. I think they should go home, be home and take care of it, rather than go out and drive.”
Randy Ross of the Green Valley Farmer’s Collective also supported the development of a new medical marijuana ordinance.
“It would just give us boundaries to operate within. That way we don’t overstep our boundaries, and go into an unsafe community issue.”
Shannon Luce said her Mind, Body and Soul Collective was purposefully sited in an industrial area in south Fresno, anticipating future limits on where dispensaries may operate. She said it would be a “huge mistake” for the board to shut down existing operations and questioned the questioned the true urgency of the emergency ordinance, which required a unanimous vote of the four supervisors present.
“It’s been 14 years since the Compassionate Use came into place. A lack of preparation on the county’s part shouldn’t be the emergency on the medical cannabis community’s part,” Luce said.
Emergency or not, it’s unclear what sanctions existing dispensaries may face, even though the new ordinance doesn’t necessarily apply to them. County officials said only four had contacted planning staff for guidance, and some were sited outside land-use zones where similar commercial uses – such as pharmacies – are permitted. County Counsel Kevin Briggs suggested that dispensaries lacking “vested right” to operate could be shut down if their paperwork isn’t already in order.
“It will depend on the facts of each case and whether they had a permit of some kind that they have relied upon,” Briggs said. “And if they haven’t, then maybe they are subject to the prohibition that is now being implemented.”