Santa Clara County Supervisors to Consider Moratorium on Marijuana Dispensaries

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors will consider passing an immediate and temporary moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated areas Tuesday to prevent any from opening before the county can develop laws to regulate them, a county official said.

    Deputy County Executive Sylvia Gallegos said the moratorium is needed in light of San Jose's adoption on June 10 of new controls over marijuana dispensaries, leaving the county the only other jurisdiction to legally allow pot dispensaries in the county, Gallegos said.

    The county Board of Supervisors will consider passing the proposed interim "urgency ordinance" at its meeting Tuesday. To be enacted, at least four of five supervisors would have to vote for it.

    There are no marijuana dispensaries or cultivation sites currently licensed by the county, but San Jose's new law permits dispensaries to grow marijuana at a single site in the city, in the county or a county that borders Santa Clara County, Gallegos said.

    The immediate passage of the moratorium law would prevent cannabis dispensaries and growing operations from cropping up within the county over the board's July recess and give it time to prepare zoning ordinances to regulate them by the board's meeting on August 5, Gallegos said.

    Gallegos said that beyond the temporary moratorium, the county's administration has recommended that supervisors prohibit marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated areas.

    She cited a 106 percent increase in the drug abuse-related suspensions of students in East San Jose schools in 2011-2012 as unregulated pot dispensaries climbed to more than 90 in San Jose and people mistakenly considered marijuana as legal.

    She also referred to findings by the District Attorney's Office that San Jose dispensaries used up to 50 cultivators in California, some run by Mexican drug cartels, and that Vietnamese criminal gangs grow and sell marijuana in the county.

    Deputy District Attorney Patrick Vanier, in a report, said federal and county investigators have discovered "multiple cartel drug trafficking cells operating within the county" and cartel members who were arrested have revealed, "how marijuana cultivation is a significant component to their overall business."

    In a memo to the board, Gallegos stated that "a pillar of the county mission is to promote a healthy, safe and prosperous community for all" and the county supports regulating marijuana so that those with serious illnesses may receive it.

    However, "No other drug has been freely available before its potential harm and benefits have been evaluated," Gallegos stated.

    Marijuana should be available for "those 1 percent to 2 percent of Californians who have a serious illness, such as glaucoma, HIV, or cancer," she wrote.

    Research by the county Department of Alcohol and Drugs Services showed that marijuana has a "unique impact on adolescents and young adults because of its effects on memory and executive functioning," Gallegos stated.

    The department, in a report released in April, stated that the younger the user of marijuana, the greater the impact on their brain development and regular use can result in a permanent drop of 6 to 8 IQ points.

    The county Public Offender office reported finding an association between the growth of unregulated pot dispensaries from a few years ago and a higher percentage of substance-related suspensions in the East Side Union High School District in San Jose.

    In the 2011-2012 school term, substance abuse suspensions increased by 106 percent over the year while suspensions at the district's schools in general dropped by more than 28 percent.

    While not all of the drug violations were for marijuana, "it was reported anecdotally that the vast majority of these incidents did, in fact, involve marijuana" and schools reported students were coming onto campuses "with baggies, pill bottles, and, in some cases, medical marijuana from the dispensaries," according to Gallegos.

    Vanier, in a report on marijuana in the county, said the office had filed charges against 172 illegal marijuana grow operations within the county, 118 of them indoors and mostly in converted homes, from 2011 to 2013.

    The 54 outdoor grows, found by the county's Marijuana Eradication Team, were usually located in remote unincorporated areas in foothills outside Milpitas, San Jose, Gilroy, Morgan Hill, Los Gatos, Los Altos, Saratoga and on public lands such as Henry Coe State Park.

    Mexican cartels, including the Sinaloa and Michoacan, oversee cultivations of both indoor and outdoor operations and engage in "human trafficking" by bringing in farm workers from regions they control, according to Vanier.

    There has also been an increase in Vietnamese criminal street gangs distributing marijuana in the county, one being the Insane Viet Thugs found in 2010 by state narcotics agents to have operated grow houses and drug rings from San Jose to Vallejo, Vanier reported.

    Over the last three years, the sheriff's eradication team removed 355,005 marijuana plants and seized 1,838 pounds of illegal processed marijuana bud, mostly from outdoor cultivation sites, Vanier reported.

    In one case this year, the office prosecuted a person for trying to sell six pounds of dried marijuana and 12 pounds of concentrated marijuana.

    The person claimed to have been delivering marijuana for a San Jose-based dispensary. During the defendant's trial, the director of the dispensary said the club had 14,000 members in two "stores" in San Jose and that 50 "vendors" from throughout the state provided the club with its marijuana.

    The director said that he had never visited any of the cultivation sites and that the club earned about $1 million a year selling about 100 pounds of dried marijuana and 30 to 40 pounds of concentrated cannabis known as "wax."

    Since 2009, six marijuana dispensaries opened in unincorporated county lands without land use approvals. Five closed within a month after being contacted by the sheriff's office and county code enforcers, while one dispensary was annexed to San Jose, according to Gallegos.