When voters head to the polls on June 8, they won’t be voting on a law to allow medical marijuana dispensaries within Mammoth Lakes town limits. What they’ll actually be voting on is a zoning code amendment that will, according to Town staff, “allow medical marijuana cooperatives within the Commercial General and Industrial zoning.”
During its regular meeting Wednesday, the Mammoth Lakes Planning Commission discussed a recommendation to Town Council to amend the Municipal Code with more detailed requirements for such cooperatives. Currently, the measure calls for a maximum of two cooperatives in town, and requires a distance between them of not less than 500 feet.
Applying for a use permit involves first passing a Mammoth Lakes Police Department background check. If MLPD approves, the application goes to the Community Development Department for use permit processing.
As for which two applicants ultimately get the nod, Planning Commissioners had to choose a methodology for selection: location based, first come-first served and/or lottery. Commissioners went for the location-based option, which will allow them to consider all approved applications and make their decision on criteria including, but not necessarily limited to, location of the non-profit business.
In terms of oversight, MLPD Lt. Jim Short advised planners that police can conduct internal audits of books and ledgers at the Chief’s discretion. Routine inspections would also be used, along with a strict set of operating guidelines, based on federal, state and municipal drug laws that would govern permit holders. “If we do inspections and see something out of line we’ll take appropriate action at that point,” Short assured commissioners.
Cooperatives, he pointed out, can be shut down and use permits not renewed if violations occur. “It’s in the best interest of the business to play by the rules.”
Mammoth’s zoning language is based on what Commissioner Tony Barrett said is a successful version currently being used in Redding, Calif. A minimum of 10 patients is needed in a cooperative to qualify it for non-profit status. Further, cooperative owners must possess a valid state Department of Health Services certification and be card-carrying cooperative members themselves.
Gray areas in the state law, however, don’t cover how many patients a caregiver can have. Barrett pointed out (and Short agreed) that fraud can always occur in the system as it currently exists, but is rather unlikely. “Physicians using teleconferencing [which is legal in California] are still governed by the American Medical Association and state regulations,” Barrett said. Applications for a “420” card and appointments can be made online, but nonetheless require letters of diagnosis from licensed practitioners, and prescriptions and physician licenses must be verified.
Planners also decided to extend a minimum distance from parks and public schools to 1,000 feet, excluding the Industrial Park area. A 15-day application window, which opens June 9 (pending passage of the zoning amendment), was approved, giving what the commission agreed was a reasonable amount of time to apply. The window will be extended or reopened if at least two viable applications are not received.
“Potential applicants will probably be gearing up well before the election,” Short observed. Barrett agreed. “You’re not going to find too many people waking up the day after the election just deciding to apply that morning,” he added. Short said once applications are in, MLPD should be able to finish background checks in 15 days or so. The recommendation now goes to Town Council for final approval.