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Cities Uneasy With Pot Shops

But two law officers in Placer County report few problems.


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Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Author: Kim Minugh -- Bee Staff Writer
Published: Monday, July 5, 2004
Copyright: 2004 The Sacramento Bee
Contact: [email protected]

A burly man stands in front of a small house in Colfax and keeps watch over a nearly empty parking lot. He has one charge: to ward off the gawkers, the gazers, the dealers, the ill-intended.

With its wraparound porch and small-town location, the quaint building belies the controversy surrounding the business taking place inside.

This is a medicinal marijuana dispensary, the result of a vague state law that allows such stores to operate but lacks clear guidelines on how local officials can regulate them.

The tightly run Golden State Patient Care Collective in Colfax is hardly the image conjured up by Rocklin officials last month when they responded to an inquiry about opening a store there.

They considered adopting operating rules similar to those enacted recently in Roseville, Citrus Heights, Elk Grove and Auburn, but ultimately decided in an emergency meeting to prohibit the dispensaries altogether.

Medical marijuana experts believe Rocklin's action is unprecedented in California.

City officials said they fear a so-called pot shop would attract crime and blight and run counter to Rocklin's image as a family-friendly suburb.

Police Chief Mark Siemens told the City Council members that Roseville has had problems with its store and discouraged them from allowing one in Rocklin. He warned that residents might see street dealers loitering outside, thieves attacking patients leaving the store, and illegal sales or marijuana use nearby - predictions the Roseville and Colfax store owners and police say are not coming true.

Siemens acknowledged Proposition 215, passed in 1996, protects from criminal prosecution patients whose doctors recommend marijuana use. But Siemens said voters were misled about medicinal marijuana.

"They were kind of hoodwinked into this whole scheme, which is a front for illegitimate use of illegal drugs," he said.

The council took Siemens' advice, enacting a 45-day emergency ordinance barring marijuana dispensaries.

The Planning Commission will consider a permanent ordinance at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. The City Council will revisit the issue July 13.

Medicinal marijuana supporters say the council's action was a hasty one based on incomplete information. Advocates said they recognize the potential for illegal activity, but many business operators are committed to helping patients in safe and legal ways.

For example, the Colfax store, which opened in April, has a clinical atmosphere. Employees wear medical scrubs. Decorations are few and only loosely reflect the nature of the business, like the artistic marijuana leaf prints framed above the door.

Admission procedures are strict. The store and parking lot are monitored by cameras and a security guard.

"There have been no problems, no reports of crime," Placer County Undersheriff Steve D'Arcy said of the store. "It's been very quiet."

In Roseville, a marijuana dispensary called Capital Compassionate Care opened in January. Roseville Police Capt. Dave Braafladt said the store has prompted some calls but "nothing of major significance."

Two calls resulted in a written report, one related to narcotics and another to fraud, he said. Neither led to an arrest, though one investigation is pending.

"It's obviously drawn attention," Braafladt said of the store in historic Roseville. "Is it anything way out of whack? No. Is it more than just a bicycle shop? Yes."

The Colfax and Roseville stores are the only ones in the Sacramento area, although many cities have reported inquires from potential dispensaries.

Marijuana stores are more prevalent in the Bay Area. Hayward, for example, has two dispensaries.

Hayward Police Lt. Larry Bird said some dealers have congregated outside the stores and some buyers have been hit by thieves. But the department has not compiled any definitive crime statistics, he said.

Hayward Mayor Roberta Cooper said that although the City Council supports the shop owners' goal of helping people and recognizes few serious problems have arisen, officials have decided not to allow the shops to operate after 2006.

She said the conflict between state law and federal law, which says any sale or use of marijuana is illegal, puts cities in an awkward position.

In Roseville, officials also are uncomfortable with a store in their city. Mayor F.C. "Rocky" Rockholm said in an interview that he would like to see his town's marijuana dispensary "go away, but it's not going to."

Store owner Richard Marino said the opposition is unfounded. In seven months in business, he has served almost 2,000 patients and called police twice - to chase away some loitering dealers he said never returned and to deal with someone who submitted a false doctor's recommendation.

"I don't think (dispensaries) bring crime, because we haven't had any crime," Marino said.

Jim Henry, co-owner of the Colfax store, said he also feels frustrated by assumptions about pot shops. He said that when word of his store got out, some teenagers stopped by thinking they could score marijuana.

"This is for sick people," he told them. They have not returned.

Related Articles & Web Site:

Medicinal Cannabis Research Links

Rocklin Bans Medical Pot Sale

City To Weigh Medical Pot Business Restrictions

Roseville Plan Would Limit New Pot Shops


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