Jun 23 2009

Santa Cruz passes 45-day moratorium on marijuana dispensaries

Posted by J. Craig Canada in Examiner.com, moratoriums, Santa Cruz

The Santa Cruz city council passed unanimously by voice vote this afternoon an emergency 45-day moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries, though mayor Cynthia Matthews said “motion approved” so quickly after calling for a voice vote of those “opposed” that it was impossible to tell if anyone was opposed.  It is expected this will be followed by a 10 month 15 day moratorium even though members of the council have stated this is not their intent.

Notably absent were the proprietors or representatives of the two existing dispensaries, or WAMM, or any other medical marijuana or marijuana organization.

Also notably absent was any indication of what was wrong with the current regulations or what needed to be fixed.  Do they want to put a limit on the number of dispensaries?  The best I could figure the emergency consisted of fears about what might happen, not anything that has happened.

According to Assistant Planning Director Alexander Khoury, the planning commission is processing two applications and have received two more.  And the planning commission supports the moratorium.  He essentially read the Agenda Report.

It was pretty much impossible for anyone to say anything of substance in the two minutes per person allotted for public comment.  I hoped to talk about The San Francisco Cannabis Cultivators Club in San Francisco, and about the great healing that took place when the sick and disabled could come together and medicate and relax and socialize.  And build community.  And organize for their own best interest.  And the tremendous placebo effect of seeing the same people on a more or less daily basis and how they improved and came back to life with the help of cannabis.

But they cut me off before I’d even begun.

The council, which has a policy of giving 5 minutes to representatives of an organization, refused to give the applicants 5 minutes of public comment.

One stated quite unequivocally that they felt they had been denied due process.  The council changed the rules on them in the middle of the game.  The fact is that the current regulations, municipal code 24.12.1300, require a special use permit which requires a public hearing.

The Ingalls Street applicant stated that they do not violate any of the zoning prohibitions in the current regulations.  And this means the city cannot use that to attach additional stipulations as they did with Greenway.

About a dozen people spoke to the issue and about half of them were opposed to the moratorium.  Most of those in favor of the moratorium seemed to be unaware of the current regulations regarding dispensaries, and while several of these said they supported medical marijuana it seemed clear they did not and that their support of the moratorium was based on prejudice against marijuana.

After the dog-and-pony show was over and the pre-ordained vote was formalized, when the applicants had enough time to express their concerns in a coherent fashion to the few interested, they made the point that one of the people in favor of the moratorium and opposed to a medical marijuana dispensary in the neighborhood manages a courtyard that has six wineries and a brewery and there was never any discussion of a moratorium relevant to this or what the impact on the neighborhood would be.  “That’s six wineries in a cluster, next to each other, and a brewery across the parking lot, all in the Swift Street Courtyard complex.  One block away is the Watering Hole”.  Two blocks away is a restaurant, and a 7-11.  In other words alcohol can be purchased in “great quantity”.  It’s even given away for free when you walk in the door.

They state they are local business owners and have been here 11 years.

When asked about compassion bags it was stated “In our business plan we actually spelled out how much we planned to give back to the surrounding community, which none of the other clubs in town was required to do.”  They made the further point that the city council has claimed it wishes to make cannabis more affordable for medical patients in the city but in fact the price has gone up.  And that when the current dispensaries have 100 people lined up outside the door there is no incentive for them to lower prices.

During my two minutes of public comment I did get to make the point that I don’t go to the dispensaries here because I can’t afford the price of compassion in Santa Cruz.  Instead I go to San Francisco where I can get better quality $150/ounce cheaper.

Robert Norse asked, “What guarantees do we have that there are going to be lower prices at this club than at the other clubs?  Or do we have any guarantees.”

The response was, “I think that’s difficult to say.  It’s difficult to say exactly how we could guarantee any pricing structure.  No pricing structure was put forward at either of the other organizations and for us to determine whether or not we can make it as this collective especially on the level where we’re having to give back to the community and provide discounted merchandise to low-income folk when they show need…”

“What kind of discounted merchandise are you talking about?”

“Well, when folks are genuinely showing need and they’re qualified patients we’re required by state and city guidelines to provide low-cost medicine.”

“High quality medicine requires a much higher wholesale price.  So there certainly would be different levels.  And those who can afford the more boutique quality of medicine would certainly offset the cost of the compassion bags.  Part of what we’re aiming to do is compete with pricing and be a place people want to come back to.”

“I can say I know there are some folks on the West Side that are land-owners and larger business owners that are definitely against it because they feel it brings a certain element … that would be out to burglarize our establishment … and not being able to break into our establishment because of our higher level of security as required by [the current regulations] they would go next door and rip off the jewelry maker or go to the gift shops.”

“Part of our being there is that we do provide more security for the whole street.  We’re required to roam out beyond our establishment and pick up trash, keep people from loitering…”

The applicants stated the first they heard of the moratorium was the previous Thursday afternoon, 5 days ago, at 2:15pm.


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