Jul 122011

11:55 a.m.: Dozens packed the Fresno County Board of Supervisors’ chambers this morning to protest efforts to rein in the local medical marijuana trade.

But the objections fell short.

Amid the vocal and at times unruly crowd, supervisors unanimously approved an ordinance that would shut down the county’s more than 15 storefront pot dispensaries and confine marijuana cultivation to a handful of industrial areas.

The law must be voted on a second time before taking effect, Kurtis Alexander reports in the Fresno Bee. The second hearing is scheduled for Aug. 9.

Updated Fresno Bee story

KSEE coverage

“This ordinance does nothing but stop the people who need to use from using,” said Donna Standard, an attorney who represents medical marijuana users. “It’s over-broad and it violates people’s rights.”

Standard was among many in the legal community who vowed to file suit.

CBS 47 coverage

Users themselves pleaded with the board to recognize the drug’s benefits and maintain their access.

“Medical marijuana helps me,” said Donna Van Noort. “It keeps me from having to take a sleeping pill in the middle of the night. It helps me calm down when I’m in so much pain I shake.

“If you close these shops, I’m out on the street,” she said. “I need a safe place. I’m an old lady.”

abc30 coverage

The ordinance gives existing dispensaries six months to come into compliance, which essentially means shutting down since none meet the new terms.

Supervisors claimed that problems with the dispensaries, from petty crime and illegal drug use, were too much to justify allowing the dispensaries to stay.

A number of county residents, though quieter than the marijuana advocates, supported the board’s action.

“These establishments do not belong next-door to residential neighborhoods… and that’s what we have,” said Merilee Amos.

Earlier story: Fresno County will shut down medical marijuana dispensaries if an ordinance being considered today by the Board of Supervisors moves forward.

The proposal would ban the retail sale of marijuana and limit cultivation to a handful of industrial areas. Grow sites, under the new law, would be tightly controlled.

Currently, none of the more than 15 known dispensaries in the unincorporated county meet the terms of the proposed ordinance. The proposal would give the dispensaries, the bulk of which are in the county island of Tarpey Village and the town of Friant, six months to comply, which essentially means shutting down.

Managers and patrons of the shops are vowing to fight to save their businesses – and the local marijuana trade.

“This is a bad idea,” said Stan Cummins, who heads the California Medicinal Cooperative in Friant. “It’s going to push patients to have to go someplace else, to another county, to another city, out on the street possibly.”

Advocates of marijuana laud its medical benefits, citing reduced eye pressure for people with glaucoma to inducing hunger in AIDS patients. Critics of the drug, however, dispute the claims and frown upon its widespread recreational use. And critics of the dispensaries say that the rate of petty crime and recreational drug use spikes in their neighborhoods.

County planners say the proposed ordinance strikes a balance between public unease and allowing the trade to continue, albeit in more limited fashion.

Regulating marijuana doesn’t come easy, though. While a 1996 state initiative allows marijuana to be grown, distributed and smoked for medical purposes, the conditions are not well-defined and come despite a federal prohibition on the drug.

As a result, cities and counties have been left to navigate an uncertain legal landscape. A patchwork of different regulations exists across the state with some local ordinances tied up in court.

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