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Conflict arises between Wellness Center and location of proposed medical marijuana dispensary

September 24, 2010

The question of where it’s appropriate to locate a medical marijuana dispensary popped up again this week when Mono County’s Mental Health Director Ann Gimpel asked for approval to move the county’s Wellness Center from a proposed dispensary site.

Gimpel suggested it might be more appropriate to put the Wellness Center in the Sierra Center Mall with the rest of Mono County’s offices, moving it from its current location at the KMMT building on Laurel Mountain Road.

A proposal by Wave Rave owner Steve Klassen to open a dispensary at the KMMT location is in the works, and will be reviewed by the Mammoth Lakes Planning Commission in late October. Given the emphasis at the Wellness Center on substance abuse problems, it might be better to move, she said.

Another serious problem with the Wellness Center’s KMMT location is the lack of access for people with disabilities, a violation of law, she added.

But the rent at the Sierra Center Mall is much higher than that at the Laurel Mountain site. The reason the county moved the Wellness Center to the KMMT location in the first place, despite its lack of accessibility, was because rents in Mammoth were so high several years ago and mental health dollars were very tight, Gimpel said.

She has more money now, enough to cover the new site, she said.

She didn’t get much clarity from the supervisors, whose comments showed they felt caught between something of a rock and a hard spot.

“This is a ADA issue, a problem that can be alleviated by the Mammoth Sierra Mall site, one of the few places in Mammoth with an elevator,” said Tom Farnetti. His words were echoed by Supervisor Byng Hunt.

“I personally object to staying there if a dispensary is there [in the KMMT building],” said Supervisor Bob Peters.

But Supervisor Hap Hazard was equally worried about possible increased costs.

“I’m not happy. It seems like an increase in the use of taxpayer money,” he said. “I’m not against the dispensaries, but I am concerned about spending taxpayer dollars that should not be spent. I think this is premature. I think we should see what the Town does and I think we should ask Mr. Klassen to pick up the cost of the move (if approved).”

He added it might also be a good idea to have a separate discussion about the right location as well.

In the end, the supervisors agreed to hold off on approving the move until they could get more detailed numbers about the comparative cost and whether there are other alternatives in Mammoth that might meet the county’s needs.

Klassen did not return calls or e-mail before press time. He is apparently out of town for several weeks.

Mammoth’s Tony Barrett, a proponent of medical marijuana, said he believes the whole issue is overblown.

“There is more than one definition of wellness,” he said. He added that Klassen has already offered to help the county move, if it so desires.

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