Upfront: Golden tickets

Medical marijuana dispensary licenses on the horizon

By Joseph Mayton

Editor’s note: This story is under review following reports of challenges to the veracity of Joseph Mayton’s reporting for other publications.

Marijuana smokers may not need to travel far if living in Marin County next year, as the approval of four medical marijuana dispensaries in the county could be passed by the end of 2016, the county’s Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed at a May 3 meeting.

To date, Marin residents who want to grab an eighth from a dispensary have usually traveled into San Francisco or a neighboring county where dispensaries are located—but that is likely to change. However, the supervisors were clear that if an appropriate location is not found, the dispensaries would not be approved.

For the most part, Marin residents appear in favor of the dispensary idea, with more than a dozen coming to the meeting to express their support.

“I am going to be pursuing one of the licenses, which could almost be called ‘golden tickets’ at this point,” said Tyler Higgins, of San Rafael, during the public comment portion of the hearing on the medical marijuana dispensaries.

Tom Lai, assistant director for the Marin County Community Development Agency and working on the dispensary additions to the county, told the Pacific Sun that a major catalyst for the idea of permitting dispensaries to open was to “give greater choice (and access) to patients and caregivers in Marin County.”

Lai said it made sense to establish legal dispensaries in order to allow residents to rely on their own county and local businesses rather than on delivery services and surrounding counties. We recently reported on local startups racing to corner the market on medical marijuana [‘Cannabis inc.,’ March 2].

“The Board also felt it important for patients to be able to receive a consultation about the different varieties of medical cannabis within the safe confines of a dispensary,” Lai added.

The application process has a number of stages. An “internal staff working group” would be established first, followed by a medical cannabis dispensary advisory committee that would be appointed by County Administrator Matthew Hymel.

Hymel would then have the ultimate say in approval or rejection. If an applicant is not satisfied with the reasoning behind a rejection, he or she may appeal the decision directly to the Board of Supervisors.

Real estate broker Charles Winstead of Bolinas questioned whether or not there would be enough land for the dispensaries to be established. “I’ve seen the number of eligible parcels drop down to less than a handful, he said. “I think there is a pretty good chance you’re going to get hardly any applications.”

Others were against the notion altogether.

“There is going to be 24-hour lighting there, which is like an advertisement to our youth—look, there is weed here,” said Lane Arye of Woodacre. “My kids are elementary [school] age. I don’t really want to have that conversation quite yet.”

Still, Lai said the dispensaries will bring in revenue for the county, including sales tax, although not that much. “Because the maximum number of dispensaries that could be licensed in the county is four, the impact on sales tax revenue (which mostly goes to the state), is negligible,” he said.

“The county does not have any additional special tax on medical cannabis. The fees that were approved by the Board last week would only cover the cost to the county in administering the licensing program,” he added.

Under California law, counties can opt out of permitting medical marijuana transport through their borders, meaning that getting marijuana from one county to another can present problems. So the step for Marin to add dispensaries is a somewhat novel idea for the county.

The marijuana industry brings in more than $500 million per year to the state, according to NerdWallet, and Marin hopes to get a little piece of that growing pie.

But there is serious concern among some purchasers who are open about the effects in what is described by Harborside Health Center purchasing manager Timothy Anderson as an “already constricted market.”

“We were already under pressure from the drought,” Anderson told MarketWatch. “Prices are high and availability is low.

“I had to help another farmer get new plants,” Anderson said. “There’s a range of issues.”

But what if California voters legalize marijuana this November, when the issue is on the ballot?

Supervisor Steve Kinsey said that “from this supervisor’s perspective, there is no need to have four if we don’t see benefits to the locations that are being proposed.”

Kinsey added that if recreational cannabis is legalized, he believes that the state and county would create a separate scheme for regulating both sectors of the industry.

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