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Thread: Planning Commission May Challenge City Council On Dispensary Grows

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    Planning Commission May Challenge City Council On Dispensary Grows

    CITY HALL -- The Planning Commission last week held a preliminary discussion on the interim ordinance suspending approvals of any new cannabis dispensaries in town.

    Among other things, it looks like the Planco will need more than 45 days to work up new regs for the dispensaries, and an extension of the ordinance is likely. Further, initial signs are that the council's wish to allow large-scale marijuana growing at the downtown dispensaries isn't going to be heartily embraced by the commission.

    Community Development Director Larry Oetker said that he'll debut new language regulating Arcata's burgeoning cannabis trade at the Planco's May 27 meeting. "My intention is to really get deep into the land use planning standards for the large picture -- the dispensaries, the grow houses, growing of medical marijuana associated with dispensaries -- the whole gamut of the subject."

    Oetker spent last week in discussions with all three downtown dispensaries to ascertain their needs and operating issues so as to help develop standards.

    The Planco will consider site and design criteria, size limits, compliance monitoring, community safety issues and more. Oetker will first seek definitions of just what cannabis dispensaries, cooperatives and Prop 215 patients actually are so that they can be distinguished from illegal operations, such as grow houses.

    But with the urgency ordinance expiring June 11, and with a 10-day noticing requirement on any extension, the Planco would have to complete all cannabis business in a single meeting -- a virtual impossibility. Commissioners were inclined to extend the dispensary moratorium and create a schedule for making its findings and cementing regulations. "There's no possible way to do it in one meeting," said Chair Robert Flint.

    He noted press accounts of the City Council's wish that the Planning Commission reverse its recent decision to disallow on-site cultivation at dispensaries in the central Business District. Flint, who has emphasized the importance of protecting the integrity of the General Plan, deemed that a dubious proposition. "I don't know how that's even possible," he said. "We are an independent body and maybe we totally disagree with the City Council and feel that the business district is more appropriate for shops and restaurants and boutiques and not growing artichokes or anything else."

    He said the City must "sever the link" between illegal grow houses and dispensary outlets. "That has to be an outright prohibition," he said. Flint was skeptical about requiring dispensaries to sell only cannabis grown on site, as that would be mandating intense electricity usage. "We might just have a totally different perspective on this than the City Council does," he said.

    Commissioner Paul Hagen said that the City should create a customized overlay zone tailored to the dispensaries that would encompass "cradle to across-the-counter" regulation of growing, processing and dispensing, all with stringent quality controls and no outside purchases. "Hold them to high industry standards," Hagen said. "If you do that, the other stuff falls into place."

    Oetker said regulating dispensaries will be "the easy component," but that creating enforceable standards for residential grows -- eliminating for-profit grow houses while protecting 215 patient rights to cultivate -- will be more difficult. "It's very, very tricky and it's a balancing act," he said, between the rights of patients, landlords and neighbors. He warned that public testimony will be "very, very emotional."

    "These are life-changing events when a grow operation goes into single-family residential neighborhoods," Oetker said.

    Flint said staff should research ways other communities "from Fortuna to Tiburon" suppress the illegal cannabis trade.

    He wondered why Arcata has such an inordinate problem with cannabis cultivation and sales. Press accounts, he said, indicate that Police Chief Randy Mendosa has more or less given up on illegal grow house enforcement. "Is it just that we have an ultra-liberal City Council with a wimpy police chief who is just letting this go on, or is it something else?" he asked. "I think the police chief has declared open season in Arcata."

    Hagen doubted that the City could do much about grow houses, since the maximum penalty it can levy under the Arcata Municipal code is a $1,000 fine or six months in jail.

    Oetker said he was working with City building officials to develop options, and that suspected grows might be observed from neighboring residences and directly inspected on 30-day notice for land use violations. While growers would likely just dismantle and move the installations to avert discovery, Oetker said that alone could help abate abuse.

    "The goal is that they'll be out of there in 30 days and that will solve the problem," he said. "The question is political backing." That is, if the City goes to the trouble and expense to build a case, whether or not the District Attorney's office would follow through with prosecution. Local police have expressed similar concerns.

    Source: Arcata Eye (CA)
    Copyright: 2008 Arcata Eye
    Contact: editor@arcataeye.com
    Website: Arcata Eye :: The mildly objectionable weekly newspaper for Arcata, California (pagesetter)

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    Re: Planning Commission May Challenge City Council On Dispensary Grows

    They could never grow enough to meet demand unless they had multiples all over the place. Unless they were the size of home depot or somthing :-)