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Council overturns staff, police department, on pot policy

April 20, 2012

Marijuana moved to the front burner Wednesday, when the Mammoth Lakes Town Council slapped down an interim moratorium on adding a second medical marijuana dispensary.

The council took its action in spite of the recommendations by Police Chief Dan Watson and the town staff, both of whom argued that a lifting of the moratorium would place a burden on both.

But the council, rallying behind town councilman John Eastman, sided with the voters, who passed the measure (Measure M) in the June 2010 elections.

The council’s vote passed unanimously.

“The decision to not allow a second dispensary was not made by the voters of Mammoth,” Eastman said. “It was the voters of Mammoth Lakes who passed the ordinance to allow up to two dispensaries. 

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for the Town Council or town staff to do something that was already voted on, and expressed by the voters of Mammoth Lakes.”

Councilman Skip Harvey said he also was in favor of lifting the current moratorium, both on the basis of voter approval as well as business principles.

“You don’t want a monopoly,” he warned. “That’s just not fair; it’s not the way to do business. There was a period of panic on where this (medical marijuana law) was going and we wanted to wait and see.

“What we’re seeing is less than up-front operators are probably being busted. There are people who are abusing the law, and that’s who they’re going after. It’s not the little guy in Mammoth they’re concerned about.”

Mammoth used to have two dispensaries, one called Green Mammoth, which closed in December. Owner Steve Klassen cited uncertainty over legal issues that are hanging over California medical marijuana.

That left Mammoth with one dispensary, operated by Robert Calvert at Mammoth Lakes Wellness.

In the meantime, Police Chief Dan Watson, along with the town’s community development department, imposed an interim moratorium on a new dispensary.

“In the period of time since the permits were initially approved,” Watson said in his report to the council, “a number of court cases and other factors have thrown California’s medical marijuana laws into a state of flux.”

Watson’s position gained steam last February, when he advised Town Manager Dave Wilbert, town attorney Andrew Morris and Community Development Director Mark Wardlaw to stop applications “pending further direction from the Supreme Court and the State Legislature.”

Watson argued further that Mammoth might draw unwanted attention from the federal government.

“It appears that the efforts of the U.S. attorneys general are directed at large, commercial operations and that the remaining cooperative in Mammoth Lakes and our ordinance are not likely to be targeted. 

“But the issuance of a second permit could draw attention, which could result in scrutiny.”

He also said his force is working in the dark, awaiting court decisions elsewhere.

“Between the possibility of a voter approved initiative, legislative case law and direction from the California Supreme Court, it is likely that clarification will be approved with the next one to two years.”

That is not fast enough for people such as Clay Vogan, a Mammoth citizen who implored the council to lift the moratorium.

“This appears to be one of those viable opportunities for a small business startup right now,” Vogan said in testimony before the final vote.

“After sitting down with Steve Klassen in January, I was motivated by his outlook. He said for somebody with ambition, not a lot to lose and doing this for the right reasons, just go for it,” he said.

“If given the opportunity, I will be ready to submit an application to the Police Department and the Planning Commission by Friday.”

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