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County bans new pot spots

County bans new pot spots

After a year of record marijuana busts and arrests, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors took action to at least slow down criminal activities associated with medical marijuana.

At its April 23 meeting, Supervisors unanimously adopted an ordinance prohibiting the establishment of new and the expansion of current medical marijuana dispensaries and collectives throughout the unincorporated areas of the county for the next 22 months. The new goes into effect on May 3 and will expire on March 18, 2015.

Michael Spata, Assistant Director of Planning with the County’s Resource Management Agency, said the “urgency” ordinance was necessary based on recent and pending case law regarding the regulation of medical marijuana dispensaries, collectives and cooperatives. Spata wrote in his report to the Board that a California Supreme Court decision is pending in City of RivImpire Patient’s Health and Wellness Center, Inc. regarding whether a local government may ban medical marijuana dispensaries. In another cases, the Third District Court of Appeals in Browne v. County of Tehama upheld the County’s ordinance regulation of medical marijuana cultivation.

Spata said the interim ordinance would also give the County time to research, review, investigate and develop any necessary new or amended policies regarding dispensaries.

“Comprehensive civil regulation of premises used for marijuana cultivation and distribution is proper and necessary to avoid the risks of criminal activity, degradation of the natural environment, malodorous smells, indoor electrical fire hazards and other health and safety concerns that may result from unregulated or improperly regulated marijuana cultivation and distribution,” Spata stated in his report.

The only person to speak at the public hearing was David Lopez of Cutler. Lopez said he was a cancer patient who was down to 111 pounds before he started using marijuana to increase his appetite and relieve his pain.

“I know there are a lot of people doing the wrong thing but a lot of people really need this,” he said. “I know people at the Regional Cancer Center that are eating and getting healthy.”

Supervisor Steve Worthley clarified the Board’s action by explaining the moratorium only prevented new dispensaries and collectives from opening.

“This is does not close any existing dispensaries it simply prohibits the expansion of dispensaries we now have or creation of new dispensaries for this given time,” he said.

County Counsel Kathleen Bales-Lange said recent criminal activity in the county illustrated the need to at least stop more dispensaries from opening.

“In the last few weeks Sheriff’s deputies have abated 150 plants that were not planted in compliance with your Board’s ordinance,” Bales-Lange said. “There is a need for some control while we try to navigate our way through medical marijuana laws.”

Just a month ago, a Woodlake man was gunned down during a marijuana robbery. On March 24, Tulare County Sheriff’s deputies responded to a report of a home invasion with shots fired in the 3700 block of Millwood Dr. in Woodlake. Upon arrival, deputies located Raul Gonzalez, 30, of Woodlake who was suffering from a gunshot wound. Medical personnel also arrived on scene and pronounced Gonzalez dead at the scene. Witnesses told investigators that there were two to four suspects in the residence who demanded money and fled the scene with an undetermined amount of processed marijuana. Detectives discovered the victim had a marijuana grow site behind the residence.

On Oct. 30, a Plainview man with a medical marijuana card was nearly killed after someone robbed him for his marijuana. The shooting happened in the 14600 block of Vista in Plainview.

After further investigation, it was determined the victim was shot while inside a residence during an attempted robbery of his medicinal marijuana. Several subjects entered the residence attempting to steal a large amount of processed marijuana and shot the man before fleeing the scene. No other injuries were reported.

Detectives located 131 pounds of processed marijuana for sales in 1-pound packages. There was an additional 30 pounds of partially processed marijuana that would yield approximately 24 additional pounds of marijuana bud. The total weight of useable/sellable marijuana would be approximately 155 pounds, at least 125 pounds over what the man was allowed to have based on his medical recommendations. Street value for marijuana ranges anywhere from $1,000 per pound and up depending on if it sold to or in a dispensary, on the street or transported out of state where it would yield over $3000 per pound or more.

The Sheriff’s Office has had various cases regarding theft, attempted theft, homicides or assaults over medicinal marijuana. County Ordinances have been created to help protect those who obtain medicinal marijuana recommendations and operate within these guidelines. A majority of cases where medicinal marijuana is present have found the recommend holders to be out of compliance with County Ordinances. Specific zoning and security issues are listed to help protect community residents also.

Individuals who obtain their recommendations are often misinformed by the doctors that they can donate their excess marijuana to a dispensary which will then donate cash back to the grower. Under California law this is still considered sales of marijuana, which is a felony.

Another issue medical marijuana card holders face is harvesting. Because of the yield of most strains of marijuana currently grown in the valley, even an inexperienced grower can harvest at least one pound of product from each marijuana plant. Recommendations commonly list a specific amount of allowable “processed” marijuana.

As soon as the plants are cut down and the processing started, they are no longer “plants”. The material is now considered “partially processed marijuana” and is counted toward the allowable amount listed on the recommend. The plant count is converted to a weight of useable bud and transferred to the processed amount. A majority of cases prove to be well over the allowable processed amount.

The Sheriff’s Office is asking if anyone has any information regarding these case to please call 1-800-808-0488. You may also submit your information anonymously through the Sheriff’s TipNow program by text or voicemail to 559-725-4194 or email tcso@tipnow.com .

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