Pot dispensary ban one step closer for Nevada County
June 25, 2011
GRASS VALLEY, Calif. – Nevada County officials are one step away from uniformly banning medical marijuana dispensaries throughout the county.
On Thursday, the county’s planning commission voted 3-0, with two members absent, to recommend its board of supervisors adopt a ban on storefront dispensaries.
If approved at the supervisors Tuesday, July 12, meeting, such businesses would have no place to function in Nevada County, as owners would be barred from opening up shop in the unincorporated county, Grass Valley, Nevada City and Truckee, which have all either already banned the establishments or don’t allow them under current zoning laws.
At the heart of the debate at Thursday’s commission meeting, and dialogue over the controversy in general, is whether the decision would limit access to medical marijuana for legitimate users.
“Can they get it safely?” asked District 2 Commissioner Laura Duncan.
Both sides of the debate answered the question differently.
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In a county replete with growers and small co-ops, access is relatively easy for patients who actually need it, said Sgt. Bill Smethers, who heads up the Sheriff Office’s anti-narcotics operations.
“I’ve worked narcotics in this community for nine years now,” Smethers said. “And I’ve seen thousands of (medical marijuana) recommendations in this county. And a handful… no more than 20 of those people, have legitimate uses for recommendations.”
District Attorney Cliff Newell put the access issue a little more bluntly.
“I can go out, dressed as I am now, and come back with a lid of marijuana within 45 minutes,” Newell said, while addressing the commission in a tan suit, blue shirt and tie.
Those sources are not reputable or safe, said Dr. Kirk Shults, an Alta Sierra man, medical marijuana patient and former pharmacist who suffers from gout.
By enacting a ban, the county would be “forcing people to go to the same growers the sheriff is trying to get rid of.
There are inherent risks,” Shults said in an interview from his home this week. Dispensaries in Colfax or Sacramento aren’t easy for patients with severe medical conditions to get to, he added.
Smethers and Newell joined Sheriff Keith Royal in urging the ban. Dispensaries are hubs for crime, drawing drug-seekers, drug dealers hoping to undercut costs at dispensaries, and juveniles looking for marijuana, Royal said.
“Establishing a dispensary establishes a central point where… you’re going to have crime occur,” he said. “It would give our large growers a place where they can do business.”
It would also send a bad message to children, said Ariel Lovett, a representative with the Coalition for a Drug Free Nevada County.
“One thing we’re very concerned about is youth perception of harm from substance use,” she said. “We’re concerned about the increased normalization of substance use” and its effects on youth perception of drug use.
A dispensary, if it is well-regulated, would provide people a safe alternative to getting medical marijuana than going to illegal dealers for it, said Brad Glasse, an Alta Sierra resident.
His claim was backed by Donn Coenen, chair of the Nevada County Libertarian Party.
“There are no controls on illegal marijuana. With dispensaries we’re giving them the choice of a clean, safe drug,” Coenen said. Pesticides and other harmful products could be added to marijuana, which is not regulated as it would be in a dispensary setting.
For those reasons, Shults belongs to a 12-patient collective that grows and distributes marijuana to its own members, he said.
Commissioners cited slightly different reasons for their ban votes. Duncan cited safety concerns and the recommendation of law enforcement personnel.
With relatively quick access to dispensaries in Colfax and Sacramento, the county shouldn’t need to pick up the burden of allowing a dispensary, said District 4 Supervisor Douglas Donesky.
Noting the commission pledged allegiance to the U.S. flag at the outset of the meeting, District 5 Commissioner Bob Jensen atrributed his vote to federal law, which still prohibits any use of marijuana and does not recognize the drug for medicinal purposes. Commissioners Ruth Poulter and Suzanne Smith were absent due to family matters.