Fresno County Supervisors pass flawed medical pot ordinance

FRESNO, Calif.

Medical marijuana users and their attorneys spoke out against the ordinance at a public hearing on Tuesday. Many felt the ordinance violates the intent of state law, which allows qualified patients access to medical marijuana. But a majority of the board members said they felt the law was on their side in allowing them to use zoning ordinances to restrict where marijuana can be grown.

The ordinance passed on a 4 to 1 vote. Supervisor Susan Anderson was the only opposition. She told her fellow board members the ordinance; "Would push marijuana growing back into the national forests, and benefit drug cartels." She doubted the measure with withstand legal challenges and said, "While it may look good on paper, and serve political purposes, it is unrealistic."

Board members Debbie Poochigian and Henry Perea described the ordinance as a start. The measure calls for their staff members to get input from the medical marijuana community and come back with possible revisions in three months.

While the ordinance was originally designed to move marijuana growing out of residential areas, Poochigian said, "I don't really have a problem with someone who grows just a few plants in their back yard." But she objects to the interpretation of state law which allows up to 99 plants per person. She indicated a willingness to change the ordinance if the medical marijuana users could come up with some reasonable alternatives.

The ordinance gives the 15 existing medical marijuana dispensaries operating in the county six months to comply, that is, shut down. But the county's legal advisor told the board if they fail to comply they can only be cited for a zoning ordinance violation. Which means they would receive a warning notice, then a citation, and be entitled to a hearing. A process that could drag on for months, if not years.

During their meeting a group of concerned women from the community of Centerville advised the board that a new dispensary was operating within 800 feet of an elementary school. The supervisors were told they would have to go to court and seek an injunction to get it shut down.

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