New pot shop revives medical marijuana debate

Valley Springs store is county’s fourth; officials talk moratorium

A medical marijuana dispensary based in Stockton opened a satellite store in Valley Springs last week and caused county officials to consider taking a closer look at Calaveras County codes governing the drug.

Four of the five members of the Board of Supervisors said they would support putting a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries if it’s legal to do so. This would give the county time to consider a policy review on medical marijuana storefronts.

“I think what needs to happen is we need to really get back and rewrite the ordinance and put a moratorium on any new dispensaries until we update the ordinance,” said District 2 Supervisor Chris Wright. “I think that you need to have a good ordinance in there because you don’t want these dispensaries on every street corner.”

Calaveras Medical Collective set up shop Friday, Aug. 16, next to the Pizza Factory in La Contenta Plaza at the corner of Highway 26 and Vista Del Lago Drive.

According to the county Planning Department, only one of the four medical marijuana dispensaries in Calaveras County is in compliance with county code – Blue Mountain Collective in San Andreas. Dispensary owners throughout the county argue they are operating under state law, which they say conflicts with county code.

The owners of CMC have yet to apply for an administrative use permit, the required permit for a dispensary, according to the Planning Department. Tax Collector Barabra Sullivan said there was no business license filed under the name of Calaveras Medical Collective.

Owners of the new store declined to comment and said that all questions about the dispensary would be answered by their lawyer, Steve Whitworth. Whitworth did not confirm or deny a new dispensary was opening and said the owners of the shop might speak with the Enterprise at a later time.

Sheriff Gary Kuntz said he didn’t have a problem with the new dispensary as long as it was operating within the law.

“I had heard they were opening one up and they have to go through the procedure and paperwork like anyone else,” Kuntz said. “I have yet to see any paperwork come through my office. (The store’s owner) did call me, and I said, ‘As long as you’re under the state law and county law, I have no problem with it.’ I think they’re coming from the Stockton area.”

Stockton Medical Collective is the parent company of the new Calaveras dispensary, and it has a storied past in the Central Valley.

According to a story in the Stockton Record printed in late 2011, federal agents sent a letter to SMC’s landlords that threatened prison time and $500,000 in fines if they didn’t drop the medical marijuana dispensary as a tenant.

“This letter puts you on notice,” it read. “We will vigorously enforce the prohibitions against cultivation and distribution of marijuana, even if such activities are permitted by state law.”

“It hurt,” said CMC’s manager at the time, Jason Elola, according to the Record story. “Everyone cried that day.”

After its closure, the shop reopened across the street in March of this year and continues to operate.

Eloa faces three counts of theft of utility services, one count of manufacturing a controlled substance and plant cultivation and one count of possession of marijuana for sale, according to the San Joaquin County Superior Court Clerk’s office.

He was held in lieu of $250,000 bail at the county jail before being released on his own recognizance.

Whitworth did not respond to questions regarding whether Elola has ties to the dispensary in Valley Springs.

Ever since Little Trees Wellness Collective – an unpermitted dispensary in Arnold – opened in June, medical marijuana code reform has been on the radar of county officials.

“I want to convey to folks who want to be involved (in this type of business) to work really well with local government to make it happen,” Supervisor Wright said, shortly after Little Trees opened. “Local authorities are here to help you out and make sure it’s done the right way. We need to look at zoning requirements,” he continued. “It probably needs to be loosened up a little bit.”

Wright was addressing the special zoning that dispensaries are required to have before they set up shop.

The zoning districts are called CP professional offices

districts. Little Trees Wellness Collective, Forgotten Know-ledge in Valley Springs and now Calaveras Medical Collective all started their businesses in zones other than CP professional. Some believe the zoning restrictions are too stringent in Calaveras County. Sixty-six parcels in Calaveras are zoned CP and 11 of them are vacant, according to the Planning Department.

“I think the new place in Arnold was the catalyst for the (possible) policy reform,” said District 3 Supervisor Merita Callaway. “The reform isn’t a reaction to the people who are moving here now, but a reaction the one in Arnold. It was a catalyst to remind the board and County Counsel to get code dialed in a little bit tighter and making sure it’s up to date.”

Though it isn’t clear if code reform will mean more or less freedom for medical marijuana dispensaries, even medical marijuana enthusiasts think two stores in one town are too much.

Tom Liberty, director of Collective Patient Resources, a medical marijuana advocacy group based in Calaveras County, said he doesn’t want to see too many dispensaries in the county.

“Collective Patient Re-sources is concerned that these circumstances may have created a situation where some individuals may be emboldened to the point of setting up shop regardless of patient need or appropriate locale,” Liberty said “… We do not want to wake up six months from now with three marijuana stores within six blocks of each other.”

Liberty suggested a hold be placed on new dispensaries for now. This would keep new storefronts from opening until the county can draft a new policy.

“I feel like we need to come up with a moratorium until we get a handle on how we want this policy to look,” District 1 Supervisor Cliff Edson said. “My concern is that if we seem like we’re an open door with no real restrictions, dispensaries could flood the market, and I don’t think our citizens would like that. (We should do) whatever it takes to give us time to visit this issue.”

No board member gave a timeline for when medical marijuana policy might be discussed.

Contact Lucas Youngblood at lucas.calent@gmail.com.

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