Medical marijuana proposal gets cool reception
By Karen Brainard
A proposed medical marijuana facility elicited the most discussion and public comments at the Ramona Community Planning Group’s Jan. 10 meeting, which had a full agenda that also included a skatepark proposal, modifications to an AT&T Mobility mono-tree, and State Route 67 and Highland Valley/Dye Road intersection funding.
Lance Rogers, a San Diego attorney representing Mother Earth Alternative Healing Cooperative, presented a preliminary proposal for a medical marijuana co-op at 1339 Walnut St. — a location that had many questioning whether it fit within the county guidelines.
Rogers said the building, in an industrial M-54 zone, meets the county’s zoning qualifications and has been approved by the county’s Planning and Development Services Department. He said he was seeking approval from the planning group. RCPG Chair Jim Piva said the group could not take action because it had not received any information from the county.
Piva, as well as other RCPG members, said he understood that medical marijuana benefits those who are suffering, but said it needs to fit in the community.
“I think maybe the location might not be right,” Piva said.
According to the county’s ordinance on “medical marijuana collective facilities,” such an establishment is not allowed within 1,000 feet of a residential use parcel, or from a school, playground, park, church, recreation center, or youth center.
One resident said he lives about 200 feet away from the proposed spot, and CrossFit Kids is less than 1,000 feet away. Noting he has children, the resident pointed out others in the audience who live nearby and have children.
“We’ve got enough crime in Ramona,” he said. “I don’t know why we’d want to bring in a store that sells a class 1 narcotic.”
Holly Michaels, president of Ramona Rebels Elite, said the cheer organization at 405 Maple St. is .3 miles (1,584 feet) from the proposed location, and over 100 children practice daily.
“So just to protect our children, I am opposed to it,” Michaels said.
When asked about crime in that area, Lt. James Bovet with the sheriff’s Ramona substation said the only homicide last year was in a house directly across from the proposed site and it involved marijuana. Shane Tatro, 34, was shot after getting into an argument with the homeowner, according to reports.
Other concerns raised by planning group members and residents were increased traffic, potential for increased crime, and driving impairment if any clients used the medical marijuana right after purchase. Rogers said Mother Earth does not allow use on site.
Mother Earth Alternative Healing Cooperative formerly operated out of a warehouse in El Cajon, and was the only licensed facility in Southern California, Rogers said. All directors had to go through FBI background checks, there was extensive security, and distribution was heavily regulated, he said. It operated for 14 months under state law and county ordinance but was forced to shut down by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), said Rogers. Although purchase of medical marijuana is legal in the state of California, it is still illegal at the federal level, he noted.
Janet Matula with Mother Earth said the average patient age is 40-plus and a couple hundred patients stopped in per day.
“Your recreational user does not feel comfortable in a place where police are,” she said.
“I will tell you that I know there are people in this community who benefit from the use of medical marijuana,” Rogers told the RCPG. “Ultimately this could be a huge asset to this community as well. It could be a beacon of hope, literally, for people who benefit from this medicine, which has been legal in the state of California for 17 years.”
Rogers estimated that there are 80,000 individuals who could benefit from the medical marijuana but have no place to purchase it in unincorporated areas.
A couple of cooperative members from other communities spoke in support of the venture and told of its transparency and compliance with the laws.
RCPG member Jim Cooper questioned whether a medical marijuana identification card would be required but Rogers said the county only stipulates that a doctor’s recommendation is needed.
Cooper said he “googled” dispensaries on the Internet and found nine listed within nine miles of Ramona. Rogers, Bovet, and a marijuana licensing detective said they were not aware of other dispensaries in the unincorporated areas.
As the RCPG could take no action, Piva told Rogers and cooperative members that he wanted them to hear the feedback and suggested they look for a better suited site.
In other business:
•Jeremy Benintende, chair of the Ramona Skatepark Committee, said that once the committee has nonprofit status, it will be seeking a letter of endorsement from the RCPG to send to the county Parks and Recreation Department. Members reacted favorably to proposed plans for two small skateparks in Ramona, and Richard Tomlinson, chair of the parks and recreation subcommittee, said $90,000 in Park Lands Dedication Ordinance (PLDO) funds are available for a skatepark in Ramona.
•Piva said he will be meeting with County Supervisor Dianne Jacob, Caltrans, and Gary Gallegos, executive director of San Diego Association of Governments, on Jan. 16 to see if the transportation impact fees that are earmarked for Highland Valley Road could be used to improve the Route 67 and Highland Valley/Dye Road intersection.
•The RCPG approved AT&T Mobility’s minor use permit modification for its 35-foot tall mono-tree at 16359 State Route 67, but requested certain conditions to mitigate the impact for neighboring residents. The upgrades will improve Internet, texting and other cell services, said a representative for AT&T.
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