Medical marijuana patients are concerned about the high price of medical cannabis in Santa Cruz and want more dispensaries. But the Santa Cruz Police Department is concerned about what such an increase could mean for the community.
On Jan. 26, the members of City Council extended their moratorium on medicinal marijuana dispensaries, a temporary ban that has been in place since June 2009. The moratorium allows operating dispensaries to remain in business but prevents new ones from opening up. This allows the City Planning Commission four more months to continue its study on medicinal marijuana sales in the city.
In the coming months, the commission will make recommendations to the City Council on what regulations, if any, to place on the dispensaries. Cities across California are considering similar reforms, and many have already passed them.
“It’s become a huge issue,” Councilmember Katherine Biers said. “You pick up the paper, and you see every community is struggling with it.”
Most notably, the City of Los Angeles passed an ordinance in January that will force over 500 medicinal marijuana dispensaries to close. The nearby San Benito County city of Hollister has banned dispensaries altogether. And the City of Monterey passed a temporary ban forcing its one dispensary to close.
There are currently two medicinal marijuana dispensaries in the city of Santa Cruz, both of them located in the Harvey West Business Park neighborhood. Capt. Steve Clark of the Santa Cruz Police Department (SCPD) said that one of them, the Santa Cruz Patients Collective, recently proposed a 10,000-square-foot indoor growing facility. Clark said that, according to research done by SCPD, the facility had the potential to grow $45 million worth of medicinal marijuana per year.
The Santa Cruz Patients Collective could not be reached for comment, but Clark expressed concern over the findings and doesn’t think the community needs any more medical marijuana.
“When I saw that, I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ I seriously doubt the whole Central Coast spends $45 million a year on medicinal marijuana,” Clark said. “So that begs the question: where is the excess going?”
Clark is also concerned about outside influences coming into the city. Last June, the Santa Cruz Sentinel reported that just 25 percent of medical marijuana patients using Santa Cruz dispensaries live within the city. Fifty percent were from within the county but outside the city, and another 25 percent came from outside the county.
J. Craig Canada, a medical marijuana patient who lives in downtown Santa Cruz, said that medical marijuana in Santa Cruz is too expensive. He added that the only solution would be to increase competition and bring in more outlets.
“The prices here are far too much,” Canada said. “The people who need it most are the people who have Social Security disability… That’s why they can’t work — because they’re very sick.”
Clark is concerned, however, that increasing the amount of marijuana in town might lead to an increase in other crimes. He says it could be difficult for the police department to handle drug-related incidents. Measure K, a voter-passed initiative from 2006, has already made marijuana the lowest law enforcement priority in Santa Cruz.
“From a police department standpoint, we’re tired. We’re so tired of being put in the middle of that issue,” Clark said. “Somebody stand up and have the guts to make a decision here. Either decide that it’s going to be legal, or it’s not.”
Canada, who supports legalization of marijuana, expressed sympathy for police officers. He also said that he typically travels to San Francisco to buy from dispensaries where he can save $150 on medical marijuana per ounce. He adds that trip that might be difficult to make for someone with a severe disability.
Some small-business entrepreneurs planned to open up dispensaries and applied for permits last summer. But they must wait until the temporary moratorium ends to see if City Council will allow them to open up for business.
There is no word on exactly what regulations will be proposed, or whether a cap on the number of dispensaries will be included when the moratorium ends in early May. However, Mayor Mike Rotkin said he is open to having one or two more in Santa Cruz.
Councilmember Biers said City Council will look carefully at the issue, and expects the Planning Commission to do the same in their recommendations.
“The council wants them to look at all angles of it,” Biers said, “so that if we do it, we do it right — if we make changes, we make the right ones.”