Marijuana proponents switch gears

County repeals dispensary ban; activists turn attention to statewide legalization effort

Weston Mickey, a local medical-cannabis advocate, has led several successful petition campaigns in Butte County. He can often be found outside Safeway stores.

Weston Mickey, a local medical-cannabis advocate, has led several successful petition campaigns in Butte County. He can often be found outside Safeway stores.

Photo By Meredith j. Graham

Marijuana proponents switch gears

Local medical-marijuana activists declared victory Tuesday (Dec. 10) when the Butte County Board of Supervisors decided to scrap an ordinance banning dispensaries. The ordinance, passed in October, was blocked by a petition circulated by the Citizens for Safe Access group that called for either repeal or a public vote.

“There’s been some confusion over the necessity to outlaw dispensaries,” County Counsel Bruce Alpert told the board by way of introduction. “It was not necessary to have that ordinance on the books because our zoning code does not provide for dispensaries. It’s easier to repeal at this point.”

The board and almost everyone who came to speak on the matter agreed. In fact, it seemed as though some of the speakers had to modify their talking points because Alpert had already made them.

“This ordinance was deeply troubling,” explained medical-cannabis activist Dan Levine. “It didn’t respect patients’ rights.”

Rick Tognoli, who ran the dispensary Scripts Only Service until late 2010, told the board, “I think you’re afraid of the vote,” but didn’t disagree with a decision to repeal.

“It seems to me that if the federal government is in flux on this issue, it’s a waste of $50,000 [to put it to a vote],” said Supervisor Bill Connelly. To place the item on the June ballot would cost about that much, the county’s elections office estimated.

Levine mentioned Assembly Bill 1300, which clarifies existing medical-marijuana laws and specifically gives cities and counties authority to create ordinances that regulate the location, operation or establishment of cooperatives and collectives. Supervisor Maureen Kirk said she wanted to wait and see what happens with AB 1300 and the federal government’s stance on California’s laws before crafting a new ordinance. The board voted unanimously to repeal the dispensary ban.

Outside board chambers, medical-cannabis activists gathered for handshakes and pats on the back. Their hard work had paid off. But they assured each other the job was far from over, and just a few hours after the supervisors’ meeting in Oroville Levine and fellow Citizens for Safe Access member Weston Mickey were outside the Safeway on Mangrove Avenue in Chico with yet another petition in hand, this one supporting a statewide initiative to “regulate marijuana like wine.”

The measure would basically legalize marijuana for recreational use by adults and would treat it similarly to alcohol. In fact, it would hand regulation of the drug over to the Department of Alcohol Beverage Control, establish a minimum age for consumption of 21 and allow taxation and sales of the substance. Additionally, it “bans development of genetically modified marijuana” and “directs state and local officials to not cooperate with federal enforcement of marijuana laws.”

Mickey and Levine spoke animatedly about the measure during an interview Tuesday afternoon. Because it’s a statewide initiative, explained Mickey, who has described himself as a “professional signature gatherer,” each individual county must qualify in order to get it on the statewide ballot in November, which is the goal. The petition drive started last November and, by law, can last no longer than 180 days.

“They already have 20,000 signatures and have raised $100,000,” Mickey said of the committee overseeing the initiative. As a “field coordinator,” Mickey said it’s his mission to gather enough signatures in Butte County to qualify the measure here. Once he finishes, they’ll be shipped off to the secretary of state, who will then send them back to the county elections office to count them.

“People didn’t like Proposition 19 because it was badly written,” Levine said. “There seems to be a much better response to this initiative.” He explained that the Regulate Marijuana Like Wine Committee had conducted surveys that found when Californians were asked about “legalizing marijuana” they were still about 50-50 on the matter, but when asked if “marijuana should be regulated like wine or beer,” they were about 62 percent in favor.

The initiative, brought forth by a retired Orange County judge, does not change anything regarding medicinal use of marijuana, Levine added. Also, it allows for anyone to grow up to six plants outdoors tax-free (as long as you’re not selling it). The biggest thing, though, according to Mickey, is that it would go a step further than SB 420, which merely offers a defense in court if a person is prosecuted for a marijuana-related crime.

“It’s not a defense, but an actual right,” he said.