Santa Rosa to relax restrictions on pot dispensaries

  • Jake Donham removes some of the marijuana clones for quality control at the Peace in Medicine Medical Marijuana Dispensary in Santa Rosa on Friday, January 3, 2014. (photo by John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

Santa Rosa is set to relax its restrictions on medical marijuana dispensaries, including removing the 500-patient cap and extending the hours of operation.

The changes the City Council will consider Tuesday are in response to concerns from medical cannabis providers and their patients that the rules in place for the last eight years are overly burdensome.

"Medical cannabis is legal in California, and our rules are really quite restrictive," said Councilwoman Erin Carlstrom, who served on a subcommittee that unanimously recommended the changes.

In 2005, Santa Rosa was the first city in Sonoma County and one of the first in the state to pass laws governing medical marijuana dispensaries, which began sprouting up statewide after voters passed Proposition 215 in 1996.

Because Santa Rosa was one of the first to act, it did so cautiously. Only two dispensaries were approved, each with a 500-patient limit. A host of other regulations covered hours of operations, signage and proximity to schools and parks.

Collectively, those regulations have had the effect of keeping a lid on medical marijuana sales in the city.

The patient cap has meant that many residents have to go outside the city to make their purchases, an inconvenience for patients and a loss of tax revenue for the city.

"The 500-patient cap is a problem," said Robert Jacob, executive director of Peace in Medicine dispensary and mayor of Sebastopol. "It doesn't make much sense."

Santa Rosa is one of only two cities in the state with a patient cap, the other being Cotati, which has a 1,000-patient limit.

The result is that after the two dispensaries in the city -#8212; Peace in Medicine on North Dutton Avenue and Sonoma Patient Group on Cleveland Avenue -#8212; make their 500th sale for the month, patients have to go to dispensaries in other cities or to one of several that have sprung up just outside city limits.

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