Pictured: Grow room set-ups such as this one are at the core of a medical marijuana legal tangle./
During its regular meeting Wednesday, the Mammoth Lakes Planning Commission took up the issue of whether medical marijuana grows are an appropriate use within commercial zoning designations.
Mammoth’s Medical Marijuana code permits growing in Industrial zoned parts of town. Previous determinations concluded that growing plants is similar to and no more detrimental than other uses in an industrial zone. Beyond that, growing is not allowed outside of a private residence, and in that form only up to a certain amount is permitted.
Changing the zoning would mean dispensaries could grow on-site if they wished, but only if they are legally and physically connected to a permitted dispensary. A separate use permit would be required, but the growing would also fall within MLPD oversight.
According to Town Associate Planner Jen Daugherty, marijuana nurseries don’t function the same as traditional nurseries, and come with issues including security, odor and humidity control.
In his presentation to the Commission, attorney Matthew Girardi, representing Mammoth Lakes Wellness, referenced a Feb. 29, 2012, unanimous, three-judge Court of Appeal decision in Santa Ana requiring dispensaries togrow the marijuana they sell, a requirement that the medical pot industry argues would force many of them out of business. Girardi said that in light of that decision, he recommended his clients comply with the 9th Circuit Court.
That decision is being appealed to the California Supreme Court, and Girardi said he expects the court to hand down findings sometime this year. Girardi further added that currently there is no prohibition of on site cultivation, but if the Supreme Court overruled the decision, it would only remove the mandate that cultivation be done only on premises. Growing at the dispensary, rather than at a random location, makes for more streamlined enforcement, according to Girardi. Mammoth Lakes Wellness owner Robert Calvert also suggested it would provide him greater quality control over the product he’s selling.
Mammoth Lakes Police Chief Dan Watson largely agreed with Girardi’s assessment, adding the courts will be looking at several cases, and opining that the entire medical marijuana situation in California is in “a state of flux.”
Indeed, the 9th Circuit has also ruled that cities may not enact zoning restrictions that effectively ban all marijuana dispensaries. Several cities have opted to place bans on dispensaries, but the court found that collided with the state’s medical marijuana laws.
He voiced only minor concerns in areas of adequate security. He explained that after his own inspections, MLW and the soon-to-be reopened Green Mammoth both have solid security, and wants only to ensure that the dispensaries have similar security in nurseries next door. Daugherty added that in-residence cultivation requirements would be unaffected by any zoning code change.
Mammoth Fire Marshal Thom Heller said the Fire District would issue permits for any growing operations, provided applicable Fire Code conditions are met, including those associated with moisture accumulation and mold, exterior ventilation, and carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide monitoring.
Vice Chair Mickey Brown said the Commission has carefully vetted the permitting process, and thinks having a nursery is a logical extension of dispensary operation. The Commission voted unanimously to amend the zoning code.