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Visalia Pot Outlet Finds Few Willing To Rent Space


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As medical marijuana patients decry the closure of Visalia's only dispensary for the controversial drug, a majority of the City Council members say they're willing to consider increasing the potential options for a new site.

But while California law recognizes medical uses of marijuana as legitimate, a continuing federal prohibition and the potential for aggressive enforcement leave the future of Visalia Compassionate Caregivers in question.

Jeff Nunes, operator of Visalia Compassionate Caregivers, shut down his downtown location Saturday after nearly two years of unsuccessful efforts to find a site that complies with the city's medical marijuana ordinance adopted in 2005.

Nunes said the restriction of dispensaries to service-commercial business zones limits his options to areas of the city that many of his 1,500 clients find unsafe. Additional requirements for buffer distances between a medical marijuana operation and schools, parks, churches and homes, he added, make it impossible for him to find a willing landlord.

This week, after several dozen patients offered emotional pleas that the City Council ease the zoning restrictions, Council Member Don Landers bristled at suggestions that the city forced the dispensary to close.

Landers said Nunes was never permitted to dispense marijuana at his rented West Main Street site in the first place.

"I wasn't aware there was dispensing or sales or whatever going on there," he said. "That was just supposed to be for information."

Landers added that the city already has a process to amend its zoning ordinance if Nunes or his backers want to apply.

Planning Director Fred Brusuelas said anyone can apply for a change in the ordinance, or a "text amendment," to include new uses in existing land-use zones.

The process begins with an application and payment of a $3,091 processing fee and continues with public hearings before both the Visalia Planning Commission and Visalia City Council.

Vice Mayor Greg Kirkpatrick said he believes the city's ordinance is fair, "but I'd be willing to reopen discussions to find a suitable location."

Mayor Jesus Gamboa and Council Member Greg Collins said they, too, are open to considering an amendment to the regulations.

"I think we can look at either changing the zoning or reducing the buffer to exclude fewer sites," Collins said.

But, Collins added, "I don't know if changing the zoning is going to make any difference in finding a landlord who's willing to rent to him."

Brusuelas noted that elsewhere in California, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has notified landlords who rent to dispensaries that their property could be seized for harboring illegal activity.

"Federal law is hanging like a cloud over all of this," Brusuelas said.

Nunes said at least two owners backed out of prospective lease deals out of fear of losing their property.

Joe Vaccaro, who owns the Downtown Visalia Plaza building where Nunes operated Visalia Compassionate Caregivers, said those same fears "were always in the back of my mind."

Vaccaro said Wednesday that he never had any problems with the dispensary as a tenant, "and no real complaints from other tenants."

Vaccaro added that if the city opened the downtown commercial zone to a dispensary, he'd be willing to continue renting to Visalia Compassionate Caregivers, "provided they comply with all laws."

News Moderator: CoZmO - 420 MAGAZINE ® - Medical Marijuana Publication & Social Networking
Source: The Fresno Bee (Fresno, CA)
Author: Tim Sheehan
Contact: tsheehan@fresnobee.com
Copyright: 2007 The Fresno Bee
Website: Visalia pot outlet finds few willing to rent space
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