Nov 19 2009

Santa Cruz considers ban on more medical marijuana dispensaries

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The Santa Cruz Planning Commission will have a hearing tonight, 19 Nov 09 at 7:00 PM on proposals to ban additional dispensaries, allow the sales of clones as well as on-site cultivation, and increase the set-back from residential property from 50 to 600 feet.

To date, the city has no licensed production houses.  Current regulations require that in order to obtain a permit for a medical marijuana production house one must have a medical marijuana dispensary permit and that the production house must be at a location separate from the dispensary.

The proposals would remove production houses as a separate category from dispensaries, limit the size to 2,000 square feet, and require the use of solar panels.

It’s interesting to note that while the discussion regarding the limit on the size of grow houses considers yield, retail value, and number of patients in the city and county, nowhere in the report is there any mention of how much a patient needs.  However, it appears they intend to allow two production houses which they estimate will produce between 600 and 864 pounds per year.

The average amount a medical marijuana patient requires per year is about a pound, or about 1.25 ounces per month.  With this in mind it appears the city intends to grow enough to supply patients residing within the city limits, if you accept their estimate of the number of medical marijuana patients.

The Analysis assumes 2,000 square feet will produce between 300 and 432 pounds of marijuana per year.  It claims the going rate for this is $25-$35 per gram. This works out to between $712.50 and $855 per ounce at 28.5 grams per ounce.

It’s not difficult to find collectives in San Francisco that provide medicinal quality cannabis at about $300 per ounce.  Bargain shopping can bring the cost down to $250 per ounce, or below.  Many collectives have their own websites where menus, including prices, can be perused via the internet.

Nevertheless, the Market Report concludes:

“There is no price or quality incentive for patients to travel outside of Santa Cruz.  That any perceived incentive is offset by travel cost and time.”

The Analysis supports its case for limiting medical marijuana dispensaries by noting that Oakland, Berkeley, and Santa Rosa have limits of 4, 3, and 2 dispensaries.  It states the population of these cities as 420,000, 105,000, and 161,000, respectively and that the population of Santa Cruz is 56,000.

It fails to take into account that West Hollywood with a population of 36,000 has four dispensaries (with a cap of 7) or that San Francisco with a population of 809,000 has 23 dispensaries.  And then there’s Los Angeles where no one is sure how many there are but it’s guesstimated there are at least 800 and maybe 1,000 or more.

Using 1.5% as the percent of medical marijuana patients in the adult population, it calculates there are 3,000 medical marijuana patients in the county and 670 in the city.  It states 25% of the dispensary clients are from the city, 50% from the county, and 25% from elsewhere.

The Market Report that serves as the basis for these patient demographics first subtracts residents under 18 from the general population, and then calculates the number of medical marijuana patients by taking 1.5% of the result.  No where is there any explanation of why minors were determined not to be medical marijuana patients.  Patients report cannabis is more effective and less harmful than pharmaceuticals for problems such as Attention Deficit Disorder and that it’s less addictive than Ritalin, just for example.

This is the second meeting of the Planning Commission regarding medical marijuana to occur since a 6-month moratorium on dispensaries and grow houses was passed 28 Jun 09 when two submitted applications for permits and two requests for applications constituted a public health, safety, and welfare emergency.  In 2000 the city enacted Ordinance 6.9 which prevented the opening of any dispensary until 2005, and which approved only 2 dispensaries to date.

Meanwhile, since the moratorium, the city has banned smoking (of anything at all) in the parks, at The Wharf, at the beach,  along the beach drive (West Cliff), on any city owned property, including the sidewalks of city hall, along the main commercial thoroughfare (Pacific Avenue), within 50 feet of any open window or vent, within 40 feet of every bus stop, and denied The Wo/Man’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM) an exemption for one afternoon a year from the smoking prohibition in the San Lorenzo Park during its annual fundraiser

And, by the way, WAMM was having it’s fundraiser in the park long before the first smoking ban was enacted, which was (coincidentally or not) about the same time the first dispensary was licensed by the city.

Speaking of WAMM, yesterday they issued a press release which stated the proposals before The Planning Commission would have “drastic impacts on patients in Santa Cruz”

Regarding dispensaries, WAMM states:

Presently, the dispensaries are unable to meet the demand for affordable medicine. Limiting the number of dispensaries without creating an avenue for the development of low cost collectives, eliminates competition and in effect creates a financial snare for patients who are forced to pay the high prices or who are pushed into the black market.

We support the dispensary model as long as it is tempered by competition and compassion.

WAMM goes on to state that the ordinance does not address collectives, which are the only form of patient access specifically outlined in SB 420 (H&S 11362.7-11362.83) and therefore does nothing to rectify the very problems the city purports to address.  Further, the ordinance “ignores the future” of The Office of Compassionate Use enacted in 2005.

The moratorium enacted in June suspended processing of the submitted applications.  Of the two submitted applications, one has been withdrawn.  The increase from 50 feet to 600 feet for the set-back from residential property will mean that the other applicant will be denied.

Currently the city requires a dispensary cannot be within 600 feet of the perimeter of “any other medical marijuana provider association dispensary establishment, any public or private educational establishment serving persons under the age of 18 years, a public park with a children’s playground, an alcohol or other drug abuse recovery or treatment facility, or any community care residential facility providing mental health/social rehabilitation services.”

The Agenda Report states:

Staff has analyzed a 600 foot setback from residential zone districts and determined that areas within the CC and IG zone district of Harvey West, and a small area of CT and CC zone districts adjacent to the Highway 1 and nine intersection and the IG zone district north of Delaware and east of Natural Bridges will meet the siting criteria.

These are in industrial areas, on the edge of town, and difficult to access from public transit.  The typical bus trip would take about as long as driving to San Francisco.

At the first Planning Commission meeting on 5 Nov 09 it was decided the city would not tax medical marijuana beyond the 9.5% sales tax it currently pays (along with all other retail businesses) as mandated by the California State Board of Equalization in 2005.

The City Council has made it clear that anyone smoking marijuana (medicinally or not) anywhere near City hall will be cited.  This will  make it difficult, if not impossible, for many patients to attend and voice their concerns.  Coincidentally, or not, those who require the most marijuana for their conditions and therefore are the most impacted by the cost and by this ordinance will be the same ones most inconvenienced by the smoking prohibition at city hall, which encompasses the entire block including the sidewalks.

For more info:
WAMM issues press release supporting marijuana dispensaries – examiner.com | 18 Nov 09
Tax Revenues Part of Medical Pot Debate – KSBW News | 18 Nov 09
Park smoking ban applies to pot fest – The San Francisco Chronicle | 24 Sep 09
Santa Cruz rejects compromise on park smoking for festival – Mercury News | 24 Sep 09
Santa Cruz passes 6 month medical marijuana moratorium – examiner.com | 28 Jul 09
Santa Cruz to extend medical marijuana moratorium – examiner.com | 26 Jul 09
Selling out the medical marijuana movement – examiner.com | 24 Jul 09
Santa Cruz passes 45-day moratorium on marijuana dispensaries – examiner.com | 23 Jun 09
Santa Cruz considers medical marijuana dispensary moratorium – examiner.com | 23 Jun 09

Planning Commission regular meeting agenda – City of Santa Cruz | 19 Nov 09
Office of Compassion Use – City of Santa Cruz | 2005
Personal Marijuana Use – City of Santa Cruz | 2000
Special use permit for medical marijuana dispensaries – City of Santa Cruz | 2000
Prohibition of smoking in public places – City of Santa Cruz
Zone Map – City of Santa Cruz


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