When most people think of the legalities of Medicinal Marijuana Dispensaries, they think of the conflicts between state and federal law, the legality of “prescriptions” held by the “patients,” or the profits being realized by these “not for profit” companies. However, the threshold issue to owning and operating a pot dispensary is actually a question of land use.
As the legality of medicinal marijuana is a local issue, so are the zoning ordinances. Currently, Sacramento County residents must travel to neighboring Yolo or Sutter County to seek “legal” store fronts. (Sutter County is actually hosting a 3 day event to educate, and potentially celebrate, dispensaries, for more information click here). Despite the county wide bans in both Sacramento and Placer Counties, the greater Sacramento area has still seen its fair share of clinics that appear to be legal but in fact are not. Such facilities are typically operating without a license as well. But given state budget cutbacks and overworked police departments, many are allowed to operate anyway.
Recently however, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors decided to address this issue. In a nutshell, they agreed to agree to future zoning ordinances that will in fact allow pot to be dispensed in Sacramento County if the premises are zoned for it. (See this article). Said ordinances are intended to limit both the location and the number of dispensaries allowed in the county. At this point, more questions seem to be created than answers. How will such zoning affect neighboring property? Are there neighborhoods that would generally accept this business? What are the correlations between dispensaries and area crime? This last question has provided many statistical assertions, all probably as “credible” and “unbiased” as the last. Whatever the case, the politicians and the vast majority of their constituency have made up their minds in regards to whether or not dispensaries are good for the county. It is widely accepted that the intent of these ordinances is to attack the recent surge in new dispensaries in the greater Sacramento area.
But one must question why Sacramento County is spending precious resources addressing this issue now in the wake of the recent Department of Justice memo seeking to enforce anti-marijuana laws in legal medicinal marijuana jurisdictions. (See the SacBee article here). The reason is, again, the “legality” of pot is first a land use issue. Here, politicians have an opportunity to “fight” the war on drugs. The supervisors intend to beef up regulations against those trying to operate within at least the four corners of the law if not the spirit of the law. But is this going to help the greater issue – the illegal use of marijuana? I would think not as the vast majority of pot used is sold on the proverbial street. It seems law makers are attacking dispensaries mostly because they are visible and because they can.
I overheard a person calling marijuana the second gold rush…the green rush. I’m not sure I agree, but one distinct similarity is certain: it’s all about the land where you stake your claim.