CHICO — Weighing in on the Chico City Council’s Tuesday decision to begin drafting a zoning ordinance for medical marijuana dispensaries, Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey warned that the council is walking a fine line between legal and illegal action.
Tuesday, the council gave direction to City Attorney Lori Barker to begin drafting an ordinance that would designate where medical marijuana dispensaries could be located in the city limits and what guidelines the operations would have to adhere to.
Thursday evening, Ramsey said on the surface, the council’s action is within California’s legal parameters.
“The City Council can zone for collectives or cooperatives if they so wish,” Ramsey said. “It is certainly their prerogative to do so.”
But Ramsey also noted that storefront dispensaries are vastly different from collectives or cooperatives in the eyes of the law.
Although he said collectives and cooperatives are permissible by state law, Ramsey said selling or distributing marijuana is prohibited. It is his opinion as the county’s top law enforcement official that storefront dispensaries are illegal.
Although the City Council would not be engaging in direct criminal action by allowing dispensaries, Ramsey said designating storefront dispensaries as legal entities is still crossing the line of the law.
“I want to make the distinction that you cannot authorize that which is illegal, legal,” Ramsey said. “If that which is illegal is authorized as legal, you can expect to see every one of those city councilors in jail.”
City Councilor Andy Holcombe said he believes the council is acting within the limits of the law.
Although he mentioned he is not a criminal attorney, Holcombe said his research of the case law regarding medical marijuana dispensaries does not demonstrate that the council would be acting criminally by allowing dispensaries within the city limits.
Holcombe said the action is a land-use decision, saying the council is not deciding whether a dispensary is legal or illegal, it is simply designating where they can exist.
“As a city councilor and attorney, I cannot think of any factual pattern or legal principle that would make the council criminally liable for passing a land-use ordinance,” Holcombe said.
By TONI SCOTT