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County planners back dispensary cap
On 4-1 vote, panel recommends limit of 9 medical pot outlets in unincorporated areas

Medical marijuana dispensaries in Sonoma County should be limited to nine in unincorporated areas, according to county planning commissioners, who see the limit as a first step to regulating a burgeoning pot industry.

The Planning Commission on Thursday recommended 4-1 to the Board of Supervisors that a cap be put on the number of dispensaries, even though commissioners acknowledged it may not prevent an undue concentration of the outlets in some neighborhoods.

"If you have one on every corner, there will be an outcry," Commissioner Don Bennett said in voting to limit the number of outlets to nine.

He said it will also help avoid a backlash against the medical marijuana industry.

"I think there's absolutely a compelling need for medical marijuana," he said, citing the numerous advocates who have contacted him.

But commissioners also agreed they want to revisit a number of regulations on medical marijuana, including security issues for the shops and ways to avoid a lopsided number in places such as south of Santa Rosa's city limits.

They also intend to scrutinize cultivation guidelines, since supervisors have signaled they want tighter regulations of medical pot gardens.

There currently are six permitted dispensaries in the unincorporated area of Sonoma County and another three pending applications.

That would take up all nine slots, if supervisors agree with the recommendation.

In addition there are four dispensary locations within city limits: two in Santa Rosa, one in Cotati and one in Sebastopol. Those cities also have caps that prohibit additional shops.

The remaining six cities in the county ban dispensaries.

Over the course of two hours Thursday, commissioners heard a variety of views, from parents who said the dispensaries send the wrong message to children, to patients who said there should be no limits on the number allowed because it makes it harder to obtain marijuana.

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