Weed Wars

Dispatches from the California Marijuana Front

July 28, 2010
Sacramento cannabis kumbaya: Marijuana shops get reprieve

HA_marijuana6941.JPGAfter long tumultuous debate, with virtually no one happy with plans to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries, Sacramento's 39 registered pot shops seemingly got new life in a remarkable kumbaya moment.

The Sacramento City Council voted Tuesday night to pursue the most liberal of three options for permitting and governing dispensaries.

It junked a plan to set a citywide cap of 12 cannabis clubs. And it bypassed an alternative to permit a higher concentration in Midtown - with another nine outlets scattered outside the urban district.

In the end, all 39 dispensaries that registered with the city by last summer have a chance to obtain special permits to stay in operation. The city is still yet to finalize the details, and many of the clubs still violate proposed standards for proximity to schools, neighborhoods or other defined "sensitive uses."

But there was a decidedly more welcoming aura in the Council chambers as members directed city staff to continue working on a plan with no defined cap on dispensaries.

Things were looking awfully good for the cannabis clubs when Council member Sandy Sheedy, who once advocated reducing their population, said she had gotten to know the people who run them. She announced: "Thirty-nine is not a big number."

"I think we're going to get along just fine," she told dispensary operators in the audience. "And the people who need what you have are going to be able to access it."

Council member and former county sheriff Robbie Waters said he was persuaded to support the dispensaries after extensive consultations with Ryan Landers, a leading local advocate for medical marijuana patients. "Quite frankly, I had the cop view" before, Waters conceded.

LS MED MARIJUANA 4.JPGOne audience member, who offered a sour note, argued that the city should have imposed a hard cap of five dispensaries, with one designated as a destination for disabled patients. He protested that the city's wider acceptance of cannabis outlets was "a great boon for recreational users and old hippie pot smokers."

Attorney James Anthony, who at past Council meetings was a fiery advocate for the local dispensary industry, said the city staff did an "exemplary job" in providing the chance for the establishments to continue.

Anthony suggested there may be a reward for the city to come.

Sacramento voters are to decide in November whether to impose a 2 to 4 percent gross receipts tax on medical dispensaries. Voters will also decide whether to impose a five to 10 percent tax on potential retail marijuana sales if California voters approve Proposition 19 - to legalize recreational pot use for adults over 21.

"Different cities will be competing for this activity," Anthony suggested. "I think you will be in good position to compete."

Pictured: Top - Joe Hough arranges the product at Canna Care dispensary. Hector Amezcua/hamezcua@sacbee.com. Medical buds at El Camino Wellness Center. Lezlie Sterling/lsterling@sacbee.com. Sacramento Bee files, 2009.

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