From the 12.12.12 edition
By Daniel Mintz
Press Staff Writer
Still wary of evolving legal conditions and federal crackdowns, the county’s Board of Supervisors has approved a one-year extension of a moratorium on new medical marijuana dispensary applications.
Exceptions to the moratorium have also been approved. If an existing dispensary is shut down due to federal pressure, it will be allowed to apply for a new permit in a different location. That would be relevant to the former Hummingbird Healing Center, a Myrtletown dispensary that was closed after the feds threatened its landlord with forfeiture due to the facility’s proximity to a school.
Two other pre-existing dispensaries can apply for renewals of their permits.
Approved at the Dec. 4 Board of Supervisors meeting, the extension continues a temporary ban on new dispensary applications that was first established in December 2011. It’s the third and final extension of the moratorium, which intends to protect both the county and potential dispensaries from liability and federal enforcement.
Those concerns haven’t eased since the moratorium was originally set, county legal staff told supervisors. They said several cases are pending before the state’s Supreme Court and the county would be vulnerable to lawsuits if continues to process new dispensary applications.
The feds are still warning landlords that if they rent to dispensaries, their properties will be seized. So far, the pressure’s been applied to dispensaries situated near schools, parks and other places where children gather and Deputy County Counsel Davina Smith said the warnings aren’t “idle threats,” as seizures have been done in other counties.
Finally, banks have been warned not to accept accounts from dispensaries, as doing so will be considered a violation of money-laundering laws.
Supervisor Rex Bohn noted that the feds have informed city and county officials that they aren’t immune from prosecution for enabling violation of federal drug laws. Smith said there have been no cases where that has happened but “I’d hate for Humboldt County to be the first.” Asked if federal enforcement actions are targeted at California, Smith said the perception is that the state is being “looked at with more scrutiny.” She added, “The thought is that California produces a lot of high grade medical marijuana and that a lot of it is finding its way into other states.”
“Do we want to take on the feds?” Bohn asked. Smith said it’s “certainly something for your board to consider.”
During a sparsely populated public comment session, Carla Ritter, the co-founder of Hummingbird Healing Center, advocated for the exception clause. The dispensary’s closure was “not our choice, nor the choice of our landlord,” she said, adding that the dispensary’s staff has been “working to secure a new and appropriate location that meets all the state and county requirements.”
Former Arcata resident Shaye Harty said she worked at Humboldt Medical Supply, a well-regarded Arcata-based dispensary that was also shut down due to federal pressure. She described marijuana’s cultural and economic status as “the big green elephant in the room” and urged supervisors to defend medical marijuana access.
Supervisors said they support responsibly-implemented medical marijuana distribution but they all agreed that under the circumstances, lifting the moratorium is legally impractical.
Deputy County Counsel Carolyn Ruth said that by law, only three extensions of the moratorium are allowed. When the newly-approved one expires in a year, county legal staff will return to propose “some other creative solution,” she continued.