Fresno County supervisors take first step to restrict dispensaries

FRESNO – Fresno County supervisors took the first step to shutting down and restricting medical marijuana dispensaries in the county.

In front of a large crowd of opponents and proponents of the dispensaries, the supervisors voted 4-0 on Tuesday to approve an ordinance that would shut down more than 15 storefront medical marijuana dispensaries and limit cultivation to a few industrial areas in unincorporated Fresno County. Most of the cities in Fresno County already have a ban on dispensaries.

The ordinance cannot be put into effect until a second vote takes place by the supervisors on Aug. 9.

Many of the current dispensaries exist near people’s homes.  Several collectives are located in Old Fig Garden and Tarpey Village. Neighbors in these areas complained that the dispensaries bring a criminal element to the area.

Mike Worthington lives near a dispensary and said that it’s the people who abuse the medical marijuana system who are ruining it for everybody else.

“They’re driving fast. They’re stopping and smoking their marijuana there,” he said. “It’s not the proper place. You take it home and you conduct your business in your private house.”

Worthington told the crowd at the meeting that the dispensaries and other medical marijuana users need to police each other.

“I implore all you people to police your people, okay? That’s all we’re asking. And you guys are not doing that. You’re letting it go on and that’s why we’re here today,” he said.

A resident who lives near a dispensary in Fig Garden complained that when he and his kids are out in their yard they can smell the pot being smoked at a nearby dispensary. Others complained about crimes happening at or near the dispensaries, such as armed robberies, which place nearby residents in danger.

“These establishments do not belong next door to residential neighborhoods,” said resident Merille Amos.

The new ordinance does not allow patients to smoke marijuana on site, and forces collectives to be at least 1,000 feet away from schools, parks and churches. It also requires security measures such as guards and security cameras around the collectives.

Only a few areas in the county would be allowed for cultivation: parts of Malaga, along Highway 99 between Fowler and Selma as well as between Selma and Kingsburg, west Fresno County near Tranquility and San Joaquin, and outside of Coalinga.

The cultivation facilities would have to operate as collectives, which means that they would be member-owned and only serve members.

Dozens of medical pot advocates showed up at the meeting to protest the ordinance.

One medical marijuana user told supervisors that passing the new ordinance would make veterans and cancer patients suffer.

Donna Van Noort, a woman with stage four breast cancer, spoke about her need for the dispensaries. She said that she uses marijuana to fight the constant pain.

“I need a safe place to procure my medical marijuana,” she said. “If you close all these shops, I’m sent out on the streets.”

Rick Horowitz, a Fresno attorney and supporter of medical marijuana, believes that state law does not allow the supervisors to enact the ordinance.

“Some of the components that are in the currently proposed ordinance are going to be struck down the moment that I and numerous other attorneys take you to court,” he said.

Supervisors said that their authority over local land use allows them to put limitations on the dispensaries and keep indoor cultivation away from residential areas. Supervisors said that they are worried about the people who are using marijuana recreationally and not for medical issues.

“I think a lot of you in this room have acknowledged that you can separate those who legitimately need medical marijuana for their issues and there are those who completely abused this system,” Supervisor Henry Perea said at the meeting.

“This is not easy, but we need to take a first step,” added Supervisor Debbie Poochigian.


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