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Chico Grapples With Regulating Medical Marijuana, As Its Foothold Here Grows


Nug of the Month: Aug 2008
With all the change the Golden State has experienced since 1996, there has been one endless debate in almost every California county, city and community — over medical marijuana.

Passed by California voters 14 years ago, Proposition 215 did little to quell arguments over cannabis and its use for medical ailments.

Instead, a storm of discourse has raged, with conflict over how many medicinal marijuana plants a person can grow, to the economics of taxing the drug.

Chico certainly has been no stranger to the discussions, with the community presently facing some of its most pivotal moments since Proposition 215 was enacted.

For the past three months, City Attorney Lori Barker has been drafting an ordinance that, if approved, will lay the foundation for storefront dispensaries to open shop. Barker is also working on an ordinance that would restrict outdoor marijuana grows.

The Chico City Council directed Barker to highlight areas of the city where dispensaries could be permitted.

Under current land-use laws, dispensaries are illegal in Chico and Butte County. Zoning laws only permit uses that are explicitly stated as such and no county or city zoning district allows for medical marijuana dispensaries.

Federal law states that any marijuana use, possession or cultivation is illegal.

Yet, with pot shops popping up throughout the state and the city receiving complaints about backyard grows, the majority of the council agreed it would be advantageous to begin crafting regulations now.

"This issue was brought to us by community members," said Mayor Ann Schwab. "When the community has a concern, it's the council's responsibility to respond to that and come up with a solution."

But what does that solution look like for the city of Chico?

For those who medicate with marijuana like Chico residents Kris Kidd and Rosalina Acevedo, the need for a dispensary is indisputable. They want safe and affordable access to their medication.

For local law enforcement leaders like Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey and Chico Police Chief Mike Maloney, the answer is a clear no.

Both say dispensaries could bring crime into the city and both are concerned about the negative impacts of marijuana use throughout the community.

But even if the City Council does not allow for the zoning of dispensing collectives, they are already here. California Harm Reduction Cooperative, Inc., has been up and running on Hegan Lane for approximately nine months.

David Kasakove, a board member of the collective, said it boasts more than 460 members, the majority of whom reside in Butte County. Member patients can come into California Harm Reduction Cooperative and, if they have a doctor's recommendation for marijuana, can procure the drug on site.

Kasakove said there is an obvious need for a dispensary in Chico, just by the sheer volume of members the cooperative has.

"We've taken 460-plus patients that would have to score their marijuana from their neighbor and given them a place where they can safely access their medicine," Kasakove said.

Kasakove is a familiar face on the medical marijuana scene.

In 1997, the Claremont native's store Everything's Hemp on Nord Avenue and the office of the Chico Medical Marijuana Caregiver's Association, was raided by Butte County sheriff's deputies on suspicion Kasakove was distributing marijuana out of the building.

The charges against him were eventually dismissed, but the investigation into his operation led to the federal prosecution of Chico's Bryan Epis, who was convicted in 2002 on charges of growing large quantities of marijuana in his home near Chico High School for the cooperative.

Though Epis was released from prison in 2004 by an appeals court decision, in 2009 he was ordered back to federal custody by a federal judge to serve the remainder of his 10-year sentence.

Kasakove said the negative attention subsequently forced him to shut down the Chico Medical Marijuana Caregiver's Association cooperative — one of the first 15 in California — and he moved to Humboldt County in 2000.

He took over a dispensing cooperative there, but it closed after embezzlement and theft among employees.

Even with the past failures, Kasakove moved to Chico specifically to open a dispensing cooperative.

"It's a necessity," Kasakove said. "There's obviously need."

The need for medical marijuana access is hard to pinpoint. The Butte County Health Department has just 37 cardholders enrolled in the state's voluntary medical marijuana identification program that began after the 2003 passage of Senate Bill 420.

Some pro-marijuana organizations estimate there are at least 300,000 California residents who hold recommendations for medical marijuana. At least 600 dispensaries are listed on the California National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws website, but the organization does not attest to the quality of any dispensary listed.

Kasakove maintains that California Harm Reduction Cooperative in Chico is legitimate.

"We're legal, we're transparent," Kasakove said, adding that he has a business license with the city.

Barker said a business license does not prove the legality of any business, saying dispensaries are still not permitted under the city's zoning regulations.

Chief Maloney knows of the cooperative, as well as Doctor's Orders Co-op, which is also in city limits on Cohasset Road. Kasakove said he believes as many as eight dispensaries could be located in and around Chico.

Maloney said the Chico Police Department is "not turning a blind eye" to the operations, but said with staffing at an all-time per-capita low, monitoring each dispensary for illegal activity is simply not feasible.

"We just don't have the resources," Maloney said. "Everything is on a scale of priorities."

But even if dispensaries aren't the highest priority for police at the moment, for the City Council the cultivation and dispensing of medical marijuana is at the top of its list.

"We're moving forward; we're making a decision," Schwab said. "Items that are important to our community reflect the importance to the council. And the community has spoken that this is an important issue to them."

But no matter how the votes fall on the zoning of dispensaries, or the fact that the majority of Butte County residents voted against Proposition 215, one thing the council cannot change is that with or without regulations, pot's presence in Chico is prevalent.

"Great Debate" about legalizing pot is Thursday

CHICO — The city of Chico and Chico State University First Year Experience Program will host The Great Debate on Thursday.

Throughout the day, students will present speeches about the legalization of marijuana. The event highlight will be a main debate at 6:30 p.m., which will pit proponents and opponents of legalized marijuana against each other.

Lobbyist Max Del Real, Chico State sociology professor Marianne Paiva and Dale Clare, executive chancellor of Oaksterdam University, will argue for legalized marijuana.

Chico City Councilor Scott Gruendl, Chico Unified School District Board President Jann Reed and Carl Ochsner, director of the Work Training Center, will lobby against legalizing marijuana.

The debate will be held in the City Council Chambers, 421 Main St.

NewsHawk: Ganjarden: 420 MAGAZINE
Source: Chico Enterprise-Record
Contact: Chico Enterprise-Record
Copyright: 2010 Chico Enterprise-Record
Website: Chico grapples with regulating medical marijuana, as its foothold here grows

* Thanks to MedicalNeed for submitting this article
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