"Solano County sets meetings on marijuana dispensaries"
2013-10-23 by Tony Burchyns from "Vallejo Times-Herald":
Solano County's evolving medical marijuana debate continues next week as leaders begin the first in-depth look at allowing dispensaries in unincorporated areas.
Five public-outreach meetings are scheduled throughout the county, including one for the Vallejo-Benicia area set for 6 p.m., Oct. 30, at Vallejo City Hall. The other meetings will be held in Vacaville, Dixon, Fairfield and Winters.
The approach is new for Solano's county government, which has banned dispensaries in the past. It also contrasts with the policy of the local cities. For a number of reasons, including possible conflicts with federal law, no Solano County city allows dispensaries.
The board of supervisors' attitude on the issue shifted, however, after the 2012 election added two new members who favor medical marijuana regulations over outright bans.
"We had a moratorium in place, and it was about to expire," said Supervisor Linda Seifert, whose district includes Benicia and parts of Vallejo. "We were put in the place of either adopting a ban or adopting some kind of regulatory process."
In unincorporated Vallejo, four parcels have been identified as possible dispensary sites -- all located near Lemon Street and Benicia Road, within Seifert's district.
Seifert has been a proponent of regulating dispensaries rather than banning them, noting that a majority of county voters in 1996 supported Proposition 215, which legalized medical marijuana in the state.
However, she added it's still too early to know if the county will actually end up allowing dispensaries.
County officials say the meetings will allow for public input on the controversial issue, including -- but not limited to -- the potential placement of dispensaries in certain areas.
State law prohibits dispensaries within 600 feet of schools. County officials, however, are recommending a 1,000-foot buffer between dispensaries and schools, daycare centers and churches.
The board is set to consider the public feedback, along with further advice from staff, in December. County officials also plan to reach out to local city and law enforcement officials as well as representatives of the medical marijuana industry.
The effort stems from a July 30 board of supervisors decision to look at possible regulatory options for dispensaries. The county's current dispensary ban expires on July 29.
Supervisors Seifert and Erin Hannigan, whose districts both cover parts of Vallejo, support dispensary regulations. Supervisor Skip Thomson -- whose district spans Rio Vista, Elmira and parts of Vacaville, Fairfield and Suisun City -- also supports researching and drafting a medical marijuana law. Thomson and Hannigan joined the board after the last election.
Supervisors Jim Spering -- Fairfield, Suisun City -- and John Vasquez -- Vacaville, Dixon -- have supported a permanent ban, arguing that roughly 96 percent of the county's population lives in cities that don't allow dispensaries.
Locally, Benicia has outlawed dispensaries since 2009. The City Council also voted 4-1 in 2011 to revisit the issue at some point, but there's been little interest so far.
In Vallejo, the council has been deeply split over the issue. Voters overwhelmingly passed a dispensary sales tax in 2011, but the city has delayed drafting regulations. Meanwhile, police raided several dispensaries last year, but all of the cases fell apart because, lawyers argued, the establishments were following California law.
Medical marijuana meetings -
Solano County is holding a series of public outreach meetings to discuss options for regulating medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated areas:
* Vacaville/Elmira, 6-8 p.m., Oct. 29, Nut Tree Airport, First Floor Conference Room, 301 County Airport Road, Vacaville
* Vallejo/Benicia, 6-8 p.m., Oct. 30, Vallejo City Hall, 555 Santa Clara St., Vallejo
* Dixon/Rio Vista, 6-8 p.m., Nov. 5, Dixon May Fair, Tremont Hall, 655 S. First St., Dixon
* Fairfield/Suisun City/Birds Landing, 6-8 p.m., County Administrative Center, first floor multi-purpose room, 675 Texas St., Fairfield
* Winters, 6-8 p.m., Winters City Hall, 318 First St., Winters
Supervisors' medical marijuana votes:
2009 -- Board adopts 45-day moratorium on dispensaries in unincorporated areas. It was not extended.
July 26, 2011 -- On a 3-2 vote, board denies proposed zoning amendment allowing dispensaries in certain areas
Aug. 23, 2011 -- On a 4-1 vote, board enacts second 45-day moratorium.
Oct. 4, 2011 -- On a 4-0 vote, board extends moratorium by 10 months, 15 days
Aug. 7, 2012 -- On a 4-0 vote, board extends moratorium a year
July 30, 2013 -- Board opts against proposed dispensary ban, chooses instead to develop a regulatory framework for dispensaries.