By Deb Murphy
While the Board of Supervisors and law enforcement expressed support for the Compassionate Use Act, marijuana took a pretty heavy hit at Tuesday’s meeting with dispensaries described as “(expletive deleted) magnets” by Ed Obayashi of the Sheriff’s Department.
Inyo County may be shifting from a passive ban on medical marijuana dispensaries in preparation for what some feel is the inevitable passage of a state initiative to legalize the recreational use of pot, as opposed to its current de-criminalized status. The shift could either head in the direction of an active ban or rigid regulation of dispensaries.
Supervisors wavered between Matt Kingsley’s “do nothing” and “nip it in the bud,” suggested by Mark Tillemans. Noting the “huge changing landscape,” Chief Administrative Officer Kevin Carunchio encouraged the Board to look at “a minimum effective dose through zoning regulations while keeping an eye toward a long-term policy.”
According to Associate Planner Elaine Kabala, there has already been an interest in leasing property near Bishop to grow marijuana. The lease was not approved.
With the possibility of restricting dispensaries through zoning ordinances, Kabala gave the Supervisors the long and confusing background, starting in 1996 with the passage of Prop. 215, the CUA. The initial CUA has since been supplemented by additional legislation and case law. The bottom line: counties can regulate and restrict dispensaries as long as access to medical marijuana is not restricted. There are dispensaries in Mammoth Lakes, Ridgecrest, California City and Tehachapi.
To further blur the issue, the number of plants an individual can cultivate for medicinal use has increased through case law but cultivation for commercial use is still illegal. Dispensaries are considered non-profits and can either grow their own or buy from suppliers who are, essentially, growing pot illegally. According to Health and Human Services Director Jean Turner, the state legislature is trying to put laws in place preceding legalization of marijuana.
Turner explained the current county voluntary card system, a pilot program for residents of Inyo County with recommendations or prescriptions for medical marijuana. According to Turner, there are about 12 card-carrying medical marijuana users in the county.
Obayashi noted the correlation between medical marijuana and criminal activity, painting a vivid picture from his experience in Merced. “There’s a change in attitude,” he said referring to access to medical marijuana. “You lose the quality of life if you allow dispensaries. There’s a social, mental attitude of tolerance. People push the limits and law enforcement doesn’t have the resources to deal with it…. Once you open the door, there’s chaos. The impacts mushroom overnight.”
Evoking the money warehouse scene in “Blow,” Obayashi noted that dispensaries are a cash business. Marijuana is still a Schedule 1 drug under the federal Controlled Substance Act, right up there with heroin and LSD. Federally-regulated banks cannot accept pot money, Obayashi said, leading to an increase in home invasion robberies and other criminal activity.
However, according to an April 15, CNN report, the House of Representatives has passed a bill allowing banks to handle cash proceeds from dispensaries and other legal marijuana businesses. A 2013 Gallop Poll indicated a near 50-50 split in the country’s attitude toward a change in the federal marijuana laws.
“There’s not enough background,” said District Attorney Tom Hardy. “I’m supportive of the status quo until we see how the ground shifts.”
Supervisors Rick Pucci and Jeff Griffiths both encouraged public input at any future discussion of dispensary regulations.