Town to take stand on marijuana dispensary

Patrick Billings is the executive manager for California Alternative Medicinal Solutions, where, founder D.J. Ross says, minimal amounts of marijuana are kept on the premises nut no marijuana products are displayed.
By Rebecca Unger
Hi-Desert Star
Published: Wednesday, December 10, 2008 2:29 AM CST
YUCCA VALLEY — Medical marijuana — it’s the law! Or is it? The Yucca Valley Town Council on Thursday will consider a moratorium on the establishment of new dispensaries and the distribution of medical marijuana at existing businesses. The moratorium is listed on the agenda as an interim urgency ordinance to stem what a staff report calls an “immediate threat to the public health, safety and welfare” while the Town finds its footing regarding state Proposition 215, which legalized medical marijuana in California in 1996. Both the federal government and San Bernardino still consider the drug illegal.

Deputy Town Manager Shane Stueckle said the ordinance was prompted by comments and complaints about California Alternative Medicinal Solutions, a dispensary that was established in the Monterey Business Center, across the street from Yucca Valley’s public works facility and adjacent to two businesses whose clients are children.

The nonprofit, mutual-benefit collective of member patients and caregivers has been operating as an alternative-treatment center in the small industrial park for the past three months.

Founder D.J. Ross, a former county probation officer, said he spoke with the neighboring tenants to explain the nature of CAMS. The husband and wife who run the children’s karate and ballet studios nearby are supportive, he claimed.

“We all have friends and family members who need medical marijuana, and we wanted to create a safe place for them to get their medication,” said Ross. “However, this is a small aspect of what we do. We provide all manner of alternatives like acupressure, chiropractic, yoga, tai chi and magnetic treatments.”

Land use, not legality at issue

When sheriff’s department Capt. Donnie Miller was made aware of the collective, he contacted the sheriff’s narcotics division, the district attorney and county legal counsel. Miller said he was told as long as CAMS fulfills the specific rules and regulations of Proposition 215, it may continue to operate.

In the report prepared for the Town Council, Stueckle identifies the issue as “not the legality or illegality of medical marijuana, but the land-use issues involving dispensaries of medical marijuana.” Stueckle declares the public’s health, safety and welfare are the basis for land-use decisions.

Per the staff report, the Town has no zoning regulations about dispensaries, and Stueckle’s report recommends the council “establish a moratorium to temporarily preclude the establishment of medical marijuana dispensaries within the town.”

Proposition 215 was approved by California voters 12 years ago, and San Bernardino and San Diego counties are the last two holdouts in recognizing the measure’s legality. This August, a group of 45 activists marched peacefully and spoke passionately at a county Board of Supervisors meeting, but were unsuccessful in stopping the supervisors from filing a petition for review with the California Supreme Court.

A state judge had earlier ruled the county’s arguments for refusing to uphold Prop. 215 were “groundless.”

In a court case involving police seizure of medically used marijuana plants, the City of Garden Grove recently was told by a state appeals court, “It is not the job of the local police to enforce the federal drug laws.” When the city tried to take its grievance to a higher authority, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the appeal.

Proposition 215’s language is clear: “Nothing in this act shall be construed to supersede legislation prohibiting persons from engaging in conduct that endangers others, nor to condone the diversion of marijuana for non-medical purposes.” But what has not always been clear is how the Compassionate Use Law can coexist with federal laws that prosecute the possession, use and sale of marijuana.

San Bernardino County law enforcement has taken a tough stand on medical marijuana. Sheriff Gary Penrod has said it is right to challenge the legitimacy of Proposition 215 because “federal law supersedes state law.” Locally, sheriff’s Sgt. John Ginter bemoans the disconnect, which doesn’t make it easy when officers or detectives on the street see painstaking investigations into criminal drug activities that go for naught if district attorneys decline to prosecute a case that could be complicated by Prop. 215.

While Stueckle and Ginter are concerned about the criminal “secondary impacts” associated with medical marijuana, an unanticipated impact has been a hit at philanthropy.

Copper Mountain College received an application from CAMS to set up a $15,000. scholarship. “I went to CMC, and even though I had grants, it was expensive,” explained would-be benefactor Ross. However, the CMC Foundation Executive Director, Syndee Slayton, now says, “The college has to be careful about how we’re positioned on this.”

Ross said he was told by Stueckle that CAMS will be allowed to remain open and “distribute medication” in the event of a moratorium. This is good news to founder, who feared a moratorium would have a chilling effect and halt all services at the collective.

“But we don’t want the community to think that we’re just pouring weed out of here,” added Ross.

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