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Clovis Considers Marijuana Ordinances

Lawyer proposes easier access for medical patients.


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Source: Fresno Bee (CA)
Author: Marc Benjamin, The Fresno Bee
Published: Sunday, February 27, 2005
Copyright: 2005 The Fresno Bee
Contact: [email protected]

Clovis is considering a break with other Fresno County communities that would make it easier for medical marijuana patients to receive their drug.

Planning commissioners are examining several alternatives to temporary ordinances approved by Fresno County and the cities of Fresno and Clovis that would make it easier to supply and acquire marijuana for prescribed patients.

The ordinance now limits marijuana sales to no more than two patients, permits cultivation only in locked structures and limits possession to six mature or 12 immature plants per person.

Under the existing ordinance, a cultivation cooperative must be confined to an industrial zone with a limit of 100 plants. Under state law, a patient can possess up to 8 ounces.

The more-lenient approach is being pitched by an attorney who represents medical marijuana users. The alternate Clovis proposal would allow marijuana dispensaries in industrially zoned areas if the more stringent ordinance is deemed too restrictive by a court.

State law allows medical marijuana, but the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule this year whether state law can supersede federal law, which considers marijuana an unlawful substance.

Shaver Lake lawyer Bill McPike appealed through the Clovis planning commission for a system that allows identification cards for medical marijuana users. He also seeks dispensaries with fees that will pay for police department inspection and patrol of sales sites.

He also wants a more definitive description of backyard "structures" or in-home grow areas. Those wanting to make medical marijuana purchases could be any person with a medical marijuana prescription, not just Clovis residents.

A medical marijuana prescription card, McPike envisions, is one that police will be able to check on a computer in their vehicles, similar to a drivers license.

Under the ordinance now in force, a caregiver can sell to two medical marijuana patients, but McPike said that people growing marijuana from their homes and selling it to two people at a time will be more difficult to control than at a central location.

"You are better off to put this into a larger scale," McPike said. "It will be easier for police to monitor."

He said police can audit all receipts and take a 10% cut as an administrative fee.

"Why should police worry about chasing patients and why should patients be mad at police?" McPike asked, describing Clovis' interest as "thoughtful cooperation."

Revenue, McPike forecasts, could be substantial with hundreds, possibly thousands, of patients paying $300 per ounce for marijuana. He said there might be as many as 5,000 medical marijuana users living in the area.

Police don't view the ordinance as a money-making proposition but also as a safety issue.

"From their perspective, they paint a picture that it would bring lucrative revenue generation, but it doesn't address the problems communities have experienced from large-scale dispensaries," Clovis police Capt. Russ Greathouse said. "The most important thing is to address the needs of people under the care of a doctor and address their needs to cultivate [or acquire] marijuana while preserving the health, welfare and safety of the city."

But McPike contends local cities should consider Kern County as a model to follow.

Under rules set out by the Kern County District Attorney's Office, a prescription must be forged or a county health department-issued identification card must be fake or used by a different person before a violator is jailed. Kern County also permits up to 50 plants per identification card.

Joe Fortt, who operates a Bakersfield-area dispensary and has 300 patients, addressed Clovis planning commissioners, saying his business has been open for two years and serves patients from 10 counties. Serving as a caregiver with 300 patients means he can have 1,800 mature plants in his possession for his patients, under state law.

"We don't want to be a nuisance," Fortt said. "We have had no associated crime."

Fresno County law enforcement agencies have voiced concerns about reports of groups of patients smoking marijuana near dispensaries in other communities and congregating and smoking in nearby parks. Other cities have reported increased numbers of people arriving in their communities to get a doctor's recommendation and drugs.

There have even been more localized problems.

Last year, a Clovis couple with medical marijuana authorization were victims of trespassing after high school students saw their plants and climbed into their yard to steal marijuana, police said. The couple took to sleeping outdoors with weapons, police said.

Gary and Paula Ainsworth said a local dispensary would save them the trouble of having to grow their own plants and allow them to buy the drug locally. Now they go to Oakland.

"That's the idea, is to have dispensaries open so patients can get safe access," said Gary Ainsworth, who needs the medicine for chronic pain.

He said the couple still have a problem with thieves and have installed surveillance cameras.

"It's not fair to me, my family or my neighbors," he said. "It's just like somebody ripping off a pharmacy."

But Kern County Sheriff's Cmdr. Dave Fesler said deputies have had no serious issues with medical marijuana dispensaries.

"We have had a few situations where we had search warrants, but [patients] were well within the guidelines of the law," Fesler said.

McPike said he made overtures to Fresno city officials about changing their nearly identical ordinance to Clovis, but he received no response.

Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer disagrees with McPike's assessment of a centralized dispensary causing fewer problems.

The threat of burglary and robbery, he said, looms larger because of sizable amounts of money changing hands and the nature of the product being sold.

While he agrees that prescribed marijuana should be available to those who need it, Dyer said the idea of law enforcement's receiving an administrative fee, or cut of the profits, from the growing and sales of marijuana seems unethical.

Planning commissioners will discuss the issue and possibly recommend a policy on March 24 to the Clovis City Council.

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