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As We See It: County Needs To Set Guidelines For Medical Pot Dispensaries


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Two months ago, Supervisor John Leopold said the county needs to come to grips with the issue of medical marijuana dispensaries. Leopold said while he wants to make sure medical marijuana is available to those in need, the county needs to set guidelines for the pot shops.

Thursday, the county took a step forward, with supervisors Leopold and Neal Coonerty proposing a county moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries. The proposal, which calls for a 45-day stay while county planners draft regulations, is scheduled to be discussed at Tuesday's board meeting.

The moratorium is the right step to take.

To this point, the county has been playing hide-and-seek with the issue. Dispensing medical marijuana technically is not permitted in the county, but several dispensaries have been open for business, which creates a conundrum of how you regulate something that isn't supposed to be there.

If the county is going to support medical marijuana dispensaries -- and it's clear that at least two supervisors do -- then it's just as clear that guidelines, such as how many shops, what hours they can operate, where they can be located, must be addressed.

In one respect, the county is a little late to the table in addressing the issue. The city of Santa Cruz has already decided that it is limiting the number of dispensaries to two. Earlier this year Scotts Valley put in place a short moratorium and later extended it into 2011. The Capitola City Council, which
was petitioned in February with a dispensary proposal, has taken the county approach of saying dispensaries are not allowed, but they are following through, with no stores located in the city.

We believe this is an issue that every government jurisdiction -- both locally and statewide -- is going to have to address. The response can be a flat "no," or it can be a "yes" with guidelines, but standing in the middle with a blind eye is not the place to be.

The issue could get far more complicated should Proposition 19 on the November ballot -- legalizing marijuana for personal use -- be approved by voters. Should it pass, city and county governments will surely be scrambling to find ways to regulate and collect money from the sales and production of marijuana.

In the meantime, the issue is medical marijuana, and county residents and dispensaries would be well-served by the adoption of clear guidelines.

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