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Officials squeamish over medical marijuana

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New medical marijuana operations proposed in the Nipomo area have SLO county officials scrambling to their legal books in a move that could kill the prospect of a local dispensary once and for all.

Every incorporated city within the county boasts either a temporary or permanent ban on dispensaries, leaving only the unincorporated areas open to applicants. An existing county ordinance allows dispensaries in commercial areas, provided they’re not near schools, youth centers, and the like.

Following an application for a new dispensary proposed by Los Angeles resident Robert D. Brody, Supervisor Katcho Achadjian and other county officials asked legal representatives to tweak the current ordinance to bring it in line with the ever-evolving guidelines on medical marijuana. Specifically, county officials want to make sure they’re OK under the guidelines provided in August 2008 by California Attorney General Jerry Brown, Deputy County Counsel Tim McNulty said. According to McNulty, the county needs to analyze its definition of what a dispensary is against Brown’s definition.

Though there’s been a lot of movement on medical marijuana since Brown weighed in nearly two years ago (U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told federal drug officials to cease raids on legally operating dispensaries, new California legislation could make marijuana completely legal, and the state Supreme Court removed limits on how much marijuana a patient can possess), Brown’s guidelines say medical marijuana is illegal when sold from a dispensary for profit. By that same definition, medical marijuana is legal only when distributed through a collective or cooperative.

McNulty said SLO County’s ordinance basically defines a dispensary as a storefront, but noted there may be some revisions to close up any loopholes that would allow illegal medical marijuana operations as defined by Brown.

For now the bit of legalese is merely an administrative memo. But based on what county staffers find, county supervisors could ask for an official ordinance amendment. Because the Nipomo medical marijuana operations fall under conditional use permit procedures, if the county changes its ordinance, it could retroactively affect pending applications, McNulty said.

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