CLEARLAKE – Clearlake city staff are beginning the process of drafting new regulations for governing medical marijuana dispensaries and collectives in the city.
The Clearlake City Council gave staff direction to begin the work on the guidelines at its May 14 meeting, based on suggestions made by a council-appointed subcommittee.
City Administrator Dale Neiman told the council he would handle the portion of the regulations dealing with zoning, while Police Chief Allan McClain would handle the legal enforcement aspects, with City Attorney Malathy Subramanian giving a final look to everything.
McClain said state law will require the establishments selling medical marijuana to sell only to members, who would have to have identification cards with documents on file with the dispensaries.
Customers wouldn’t be allowed to go from one collective to another, McClain said, in response to a concern from Councilman Roy Simons. However, McClain noted, “The state doesn’t necessarily say you can only belong to one.”
Controlling people from moving from one place to another would be a way of attempting to keep marijuana from being sold on the streets, said McClain.
“It’s going to take work – all of us together,” he said.
He added, “You know my take on it. I don’t think we should do any of it.”
McClain said he thinks the federal government should package medical marijuana like cigarettes so they can deal with it “and I don’t have to.”
Vice Mayor Judy Thein wanted Subramanian to handle drafting the regulations.
“Allan’s cheaper,” quipped Neiman. “If we do it, we can do it for less money.”
Neiman assured Thein that Subramanian would look over the regulations. He said he felt he could handle the zoning side in about 20 minutes, although he acknowledged McClain’s part will take longer and require going through the provisions of Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996.
McClain said the city can’t be more restrictive than state law. “Those could be the gray areas that we step over into,” which Subramanian will have to watch.
Councilman Curt Giambruno was concerned about a proposal that would require medical marijuana to only be grown indoors in the city. McClain said many cities have that, because there are many complaints due to the plants’ odor. Giambruno worried that it will cost the city a lot of money.
“That’s just one of my issues on this,” he said.
Another issue Giambruno raised was to locate the collectives at least 1,500 from a school or church. He said that, looking at the California Attorney General’s guidelines on medical marijuana, it appeared that the state-required distance was 1,000 feet.
“You would need to be able to justify the 1,500 feet and you would need some rationale to do that,” said Neiman.
During the meeting, Neiman noted he is discussing with Subramanian an annual fee to cover enforcement costs.
During public comment, the council heard from a a number of medical marijuana patients who asked them not to move dispensaries farther from their homes and into C-4 commercial areas away from the center of town, since for many access and travel is an issue.
Liz Byrd, who owns a dispensary on Lakeshore, said she was glad they were looking at ways to allow for collectives in the city. Her establishment, which the city attempted to shut down earlier this year, resulted in the council forming the subcommittee to look at the new rules.
She also voiced concern about moving the dispensaries too far away, because that opens up a whole new “can of worms” – the need to establish a delivery service.
“Maybe the best solution at this point is to wait and see,” she said, noting the Board of Supervisors also had discussed medical marijuana zoning issues that week.
Later in the meeting, Byrd pointed out that the Attorney General’s Office guidelines said medical marijuana may not be smoked within 1,000 yards of schools or youth centers; the rules don’t say where a dispensary can be located.
Valerie Adase, a medical marijuana patient who uses the drug to treat her glaucoma, told the council. “You’re dealing with a lot of sick and dying people.”
She said she resented “the systematic demonization” of medical marijuana and its patients. Adase said they were increasing the fear of patients with proposed changes to zoning, frees and regulations.
“You can’t restrict us. We’re citizens. We have a right by the voters of California,” she said.
Thein said she was stuck on the importance of establishing the regulations right. “This is a huge, huge issue and it needs to be done legally,” she said, worrying that the city could be open to greater liability if Subramanian didn’t handle drafting the rules.
Giambruno said he “somewhat” agreed with Thein, but said he felt staff knew better the concerns the council had.
Neiman said McClain needs to think through the enforcement aspects, which Subramanian wouldn’t know about.
Thein said the council had previously asked the staff if they could close the dispensaries and were told no. Subramanian later said yes, so the council initially had the wrong information.
Simons said he thought McClain and Neiman could handle drafting the regulations.
Mayor Chuck Leonard agreed.
“We know what we want in this community,” he said.
Leonard said the potential for abuse with dispensaries and collectives is much greater than with other businesses, “so we need to watch what we do.”
He suggested the council should give its guidance to the Planning Commission and have that body vet the draft regulations that Neiman and McClain will bring forward.
McClain cautioned the council to be sure that they wanted to move forward.
“If this is not the direction you want to go, don’t send me down this path,” he said, pointing out that the medical marijuana patients who spoke during the meeting said they didn’t like some of the council’s activities.
The council agreed on the required distance from schools and youth centers, but debated the C-4 commercial zoning. Leonard felt that zoning was too far removed.
Giambruno favored the C-4 zoning, saying many people don’t like having the dispensaries in close.
Council member Joyce Overton was absent from the meeting. McClain said the committee was hers, and he wanted her input before going forward because some of her suggestions would be highly restrictive and costly for collective operators. He noted that the committee was unanimous in wanting to put the collectives in the C-4 zoning.
Thein said she didn’t think the collectives should be all over town. She worried about the availability of marijuana for young people.
Leonard said he hears how accessible marijuana is, and he doesn’t think young people need to go to the dispensary to get it.
Neiman told the council that it likely will take two to four months for staff to return with proposed regulations, which will be subject to public hearings and Subramanian’s review.
By Elizabeth Larson
E-mail Elizabeth Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org