Cloverdale may rethink its ban on marijuana dispensaries

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Cloverdale is reconsidering its ban on medical marijuana dispensaries in light of what the city manager describes as a “potential new political dynamic regarding marijuana.”

With predictions that California, like a growing number of states, will approve the recreational use of marijuana next year, Cloverdale City Council members on Wednesday are expected to establish an ad hoc committee to potentially revamp city policies about cannabis.

Cloverdale City Councilwoman Mary Ann Brigham last month requested the city take another look at the issue of dispensaries, citing growing pressure in the community.

“A lot of people have come to me — older people, younger people,” she said, explaining that they can’t understand why Cloverdale doesn’t have a medical marijuana dispensary.

In particular, she said, one friend of hers who was dying of cancer castigated the council, saying he had to go all the way to Santa Rosa or Hopland to obtain his cannabis.

“I’m driving and it’s difficult for me to go anywhere,” he reportedly told Brigham. “I can’t just send anyone out. A lot of us use it as medicine. It’s not just stoners anymore.”

California voters almost 20 years ago approve the use of marijuana for medical reasons with a doctor’s recommendation, although the line has blurred between medical and recreational users because a medical recommendation is easy to obtain. Individual cities and counties were left to develop regulations on how much people can possess and grow.

In 2008, Cloverdale became the fifth city in Sonoma County to ban medical marijuana dispensaries, joining Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Windsor and Healdsburg.

At the time, Cloverdale, like other cities, cited the risk of crime and other potential problems associated with pot clubs, despite advocates’ insistence that they can operate without trouble if there is proper management.

Cloverdale also banned outdoor medical marijuana gardens. Council members said they wanted to reduce the number of complaints associated with strong odor from budding plants.

Since then, Colorado in 2014 became the first state in the country to approve recreational marijuana use. Legalization is in place in three other states and the District of Columbia.

An initiative is expected to be placed on the California ballot next year to legalize recreational use.

Brigham said if marijuana becomes legal in 2016, Cloverdale needs to consider allowing dispensaries, as well as whether the city will obtain some of the sales tax revenue.

She said there needs to be a discussion “so we know what Cloverdale is going to do, so we’re ahead of that, so someone doesn’t open a 3,000-square-foot mini-mart of marijuana.”

Interim Police Chief Susan Jones said that after Colorado legalized recreational use, dispensaries “were popping up on street corners like Starbucks.”

She said that depending on how any legislation legalizing marijuana is written, Cloverdale might still be able to restrict the location of dispensaries.

Brigham said the city committee could end up looking at marijuana growing guidelines, too, and would want to hear from the public.

“Let’s face it — it’s an underground business that’s been around forever,” she said.

“There’s gardens all around. There are in every town. It’s Northern California.”

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