Thursday, January 16, 2014
Medicinal Cannabis industry in Vallejo (2014-01 update)
"Vallejo pot dispensaries return to the spotlight"
2014-01-16 by Jessica A. York from "Vallejo Times-Herald" [http://www.timesheraldonline.com/news/ci_24923605/vallejo-pot-dispensaries-return-spotlight]:
Visitors to Highway 29 Health Care are met with a reception desk and a lime green-walled waiting room furnished with plush chairs, the aroma of incense and the soft bubbling of a small aquarium.
Art DeMarco, who took control of the existing Sonoma Boulevard medical marijuana dispensary in May, sits in a nearby office. While he is relatively new to Vallejo, it has not taken the East Coast native long to get his bearings in the city and identify the positives and negatives of the medical marijuana here.
"(Vallejo is) losing tens of thousands of dollars in revenue," DeMarco explains as he scrolls on his tablet through an online listing of fellow medical marijuana dispensaries he believes are new and not paying city taxes.
DeMarco is not alone in his conclusion that Vallejo needs to pay better attention to the industry, though not all see the issue from the same vantage point.
The city is drafting potential medical marijuana dispensary regulations, while a November 2011 voter-approved 10 percent tax on marijuana sales is frozen for incoming dispensary operators. As a series of police raids and closures in early 2012 have faded from memory, dispensaries appear to beginning to crowd back into the city once again.
City Planning Manager Andrea Ouse, who is spearheading efforts to draft zoning regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries, said she sees the trend, but offered no explanation for it. Regulation proposals remain at an undetermined point on the horizon, Ouse acknowledged.
"We're seeing a rash of illegal dispensaries popping up." Ouse said Wednesday. "For some reason there's an uptick."
Exactly how many new dispensaries have set up shop is unclear.
Also unclear is which department is responsible for enforcing the medical marijuana industry in Vallejo -- code enforcement, the city attorney's office, the police department, the finance department or otherwise. Ouse said she is working on establishing an enforcement team that can sort this issue out.
Such enforcement is overdue, DeMarco believes. The problem, for both he and several other "established" dispensaries, is that not everyone is playing by the same rules while the city figures out its game plan.
When the tax moratorium was instituted last year, DeMarco and a handful of other dispensary operators were grandfathered in under existing city business license fees and taxes. While that status provides negligible protection in the eyes of the city -- which considers all dispensaries banned under current zoning laws -- many operators are holding fast to the licenses for whatever legitimacy they do provide.
On Tuesday, DeMarco went before the Vallejo City Council with his concerns, after failing to make headway with city officials.
"We're very concerned about the number of unlicensed dispensaries that are operating in the city, as they are undercutting the amount of tax revenue we are able to generate through unfair operations," DeMarco told the council. "Many of these unlicensed operations lack the cleanliness and transparency necessary to operate following the California state laws, and to provide our patients with safe access."
California Herbal Relief Center executive director Sean Dwyer raised similar concerns in an email sent to the Times-Herald in October.
"This not only makes it unfair for legitimate business people in the same industry, but it robs the people of Vallejo of the tax money that they demanded when they voted Measure C into law," Dwyer wrote.
For Stacey Parmenter, whose street is half outside city limits in Solano County and half in-city, her latest neighbor's arrival got her steaming mad.
The arrival this week of Vallejo Patients Care at the end of Warren Avenue -- previously the home of Stan the Man's Collective -- was enough to convince Parmenter to send an email blast out to the council.
"Please be aware that we -- the people that actually live on this street -- do not want a pot dispensary in our neighborhood," Parmenter's email read in part. "The city needs to have a lot more regulations for these awful establishments -- they should not be allowed in residential neighborhoods, near schools, churches, etc. and people to be clearly warned ahead of time."
In a subsequent interview, Parmenter said she would prefer to have the state establish uniform dispensary regulations, rather than each city coming up with its own.
Parmenter added that she believes that even if her new neighboring dispensary is not run by the same people as the former Stan the Man's, there are several familiar faces working there. Vallejo won a nuisance injunction against the prior dispensary in early 2012, forcing the business to close its doors.
Alexian Nguyen, listed as Vallejo Patients Care's corporate agent, said by phone this week that his dispensary is unrelated to Stan the Man's.
"The city needs to have a team that is paid by these taxes and regulate the hell out of these (dispensaries)," Parmenter said.
"All should obey the law"
published 2014-01-19 in the "Vallejo Times-Herald":
Your recent story, "Vallejo pot dispensaries return to the spotlight" did a good job of bringing attention to the problems that some of the best medical marijuana dispensaries in Vallejo are facing as the struggle to do business and serve medical patients while also creating good jobs and tax revenue for the city.
As an organizer with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 5 Cannabis Division, I am familiar with the challenges facing both our union members and their employers in our states' legal medical cannabis industry. UFCW5 represents workers at the Vallejo Holistic Health Center and we have a recognition agreement in place with Highway 29 Health Care, the dispensary you focused on in your story.
The dispensaries we work with are all pledged to our industry code of conduct to; "obey the law; provide excellence in service to our patient members; provide dignity equality and opportunity to our employees; and dedicate our operations to the highest standards of social and environmental responsibility in the communities in which we operate." This includes paying California's 8.5 percent state sales tax and the Vallejo city 10 percent tax on retail medical marijuana sales.
Regardless of one's personal opinions on cannabis, I think we can all agree that it is unfair when businesses that pay their taxes and provide good jobs should not have to compete with businesses that are not paying taxes and have a questionable commitment to standards.
Our union has had several good meetings to date with Vallejo officials regarding new city regulations being developed and the best industry practices that are successfully working in other California cities. I appreciate your reporting that has helped illuminate these issues.
[signed] Brian Webster
UFCW5 / Special Projects Union
Representative, Medical Cannabis and He,p
"City needs to act"
published 2014-01-19 in the "Vallejo Times-Herald":
vallejo city officials have nobody but themselves to blame for the lack of government oversight or clear regulations regarding the city's medical marijuana faciltiies ("Vallejo pot dispensaries return to spotlight," Jan. 16).
California law has permitted the possession and procurement of theraputic cannabis since November 1996. Yet, nearly 18 years later, city officials acknowledge: "[It is] unclear which department is responsible for enforcing the medical marijuana industry in Vallejo" and that "Regulation proposals remain at an undetermined point on the horizon."
It is a testament to failed political leadership that lawmakers are still hiding their collective heads in the sand rather than exhibiting the courage to fulfill voters' mandate and regulate this substance appropriately.
Prohibiting medical marijuana dispensaries and/or continuing to ignore the issue will not eliminate or even dissipate the existing cannabis market in Vallejo. But continued inaction will eliminate any opportunity for local officials to either regulate or provide oversight to this market.
Regulations allow for the government to establish legal parameters pertaining to where, when and how markets operate. Reguations also provide oversight regarding who may legally operate in said markets and provides guidelines so that those who can engage in best practices.
City officials should insist on the imposition of clear, concise, and common sense local regulations to provide oversight and necessary guidance to medical marijuana operators, patients, law enforcement, and the general public. Such oversight is long overdue.
[signed] Paul Armentano, Vallejo