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Arroyo Grande will allow mobile medical marijuana deliveries

A history of medical marijuana in San Luis Obispo County

Two decades after the Compassionate Use Act was approved by California voters, local governments are still struggling to balance regulation of medical marijuana. Here is an abbreviated history of the issue in SLO County.
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Two decades after the Compassionate Use Act was approved by California voters, local governments are still struggling to balance regulation of medical marijuana. Here is an abbreviated history of the issue in SLO County.

Arroyo Grande residents with medical marijuana cards could soon grow limited quantities of the plant or have it delivered to their homes.

The Arroyo Grande City Council approved an ordinance overturning its previous bans on mobile dispensary deliveries and at-home cultivation of medical marijuana Tuesday, marking an end to the city’s hard-line stance on the substance.

With the law, Arroyo Grande becomes one of the first cities in California to regulate mobile medical marijuana delivery services, city officials said.

“If it hadn’t been for people who had come to the podium, we would still be back where we were at,” Councilman Tim Brown said. “So I want to tell those people who came forward that we heard what they said, we listened to what they said, and we changed our minds based on what they said.”

The ordinance will return to the council for a second reading June 28 and, if approved as expected, will go into effect 30 days later.

The turnaround comes after the council approved an ordinance in January that banned growing medical marijuana at home, amid now unfounded concerns that the city needed a local ordinance governing cultivation or the state could take over regulatory control.

The city already had banned brick-and-mortar dispensaries in 2008 and mobile dispensaries in 2012.

I want to tell those people who came forward that we heard what they said, we listened to what they said and we changed our minds based on what they said.

Tim Brown, Arroyo Grande city councilman

During a City Council meeting in March, several residents said those ordinances made it impossible to obtain medical marijuana within the city. An emotional plea from resident Devin Ward, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease) helped persuade the council to loosen the local laws.

Ward didn’t attend Tuesday’s meeting, but fellow Arroyo Grande resident Patty Welsh gave a poignant appeal on behalf of Ward and others with terminal illnesses.

“If you ask anyone what their No. 1 fear of dying is, it’s suffering,” she said. “Let more residents have access to something that might save their lives or ease their pain, because Devin Ward matters. All life matters.”

Former San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Caren Ray, who was on the City Council when it outlawed mobile dispensaries, also spoke at the meeting Tuesday to show her support for lifting that ban and approving the new regulations.

“I’m standing here tonight to basically correct a wrong,” she said. “We were wrong to have done that. I think that society has kind of caught up with that at this point.”

Mobile deliveries

Under the new ordinance, up to three mobile dispensaries could apply for city permits to deliver to residents, similar to rules governing taxi services.

The drivers would be subject to background checks by the Arroyo Grande Police Department, and the city would have oversight of the delivery services’ safety procedures, record-keeping, product quality and insurance. Delivery cars must be unmarked except for a sticker showing they are permitted, and deliveries could only be made to homes.

21 Minimum age of a driver for the permitted mobile medical marijuana delivery dispensaries

The draft ordinance prohibited deliveries within 1,000 feet of a school, but the council ultimately dropped that restriction because the number of schools in the city would effectively prevent deliveries in much of Arroyo Grande.

“I’m going to go out on a limb and say I don’t really know why this is a scary thing that’s going to happen next to a school?” Councilwoman Kristen Barneich said. “If we have people who aren’t approved for a delivery, then there could be problems, but I think this is a little bit too restrictive, and I worry we are cutting out people that really need this.”

The minimum age of drivers was raised from 18 to 21.

Growing at home

Qualified residents — those with a medical marijuana card — would be able to grow their own medical marijuana, though the plants could not be grown in a space larger than 50 square feet, could not be taller than 10 feet and must not be visible from the exterior of the property. The plants can also only be grown in a detached single-family home and not in the kitchen, bathroom, occupied bedroom or garage.

The ordinance also specifies that the growth cannot “adversely affect the health or safety of the occupants of other property in the vicinity and shall not be maintained in a manner so as to constitute a hazard.”

Brick and mortar

Further signifying its new stance on medical marijuana, several council members once again expressed an interest in potentially allowing a brick-and-mortar medical marijuana dispensary to open in Arroyo Grande, so the city can collect sales tax revenue from it.

“A year ago I would have said, ‘Absolutely no way this community would ever do that,’ ” Councilman Jim Guthrie said during his comments. “I’m not sure that is true anymore.”

Guthrie said he would like to get direction from the community on whether they would support a brick-and-mortar outlet.

Mayor Jim Hill and Councilman Brown also said they would like to gather input on pursuing a brick-and-mortar dispensary, though Brown cautioned that he wants to wait until after the Nov. 8 general election to see the results of an expected recreational marijuana initiative on the ballot.

California was the first state to allow medical marijuana. Now, two decades later, voters are expected to be asked whether to legalize recreational use of the drug. The legalization measure most likely to qualify for the statewide November ballot

Kaytlyn Leslie: 805-781-7928, @kaytyleslie

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