Changes to marijuana ordinance arouse suspicion in South Lake Tahoe
The Union News Service
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE – Changes to a proposed medical marijuana cultivation ordinance have led to allegations of backdoor politics against South Lake Tahoe city officials.
The latest draft of a proposed medical marijuana cultivation ordinance includes language that would require the three existing medical marijuana collectives in South Lake Tahoe to move to industrial zones by Dec. 31, 2013, and would limit the number of permits issued for medical marijuana cultivation in industrial zones to three.
Gino DiMatteo, owner of the City of Angels 2 collective, said he was outraged with the changes Wednesday, calling the addition of the language a “sneak attack” on the work of a committee formed by the city council to develop guidelines surrounding the cultivation of medical marijuana.
DiMatteo is one of three representatives from medical marijuana collectives that sat on the committee, which was created in August and conducted its last of four meetings Sept. 23.
Previous discussion by the committee about the location of the collectives focused on keeping the operations at their existing locations, preventing expansion and allowing medical marijuana cultivation in industrial areas with a permit. The new language was not discussed at the Sept. 23 meeting.
“What was the point of having a committee meet if they we’re going to do what they wanted to do anyway?” a clearly frustrated DiMatteo asked.
City Manager Tony O’Rourke defended the addition of the language Wednesday, saying it was never the goal of the committee to draft an ordinance that “was cut in stone.”
“Ninety-five percent” of the draft document that will be headed to the council for discussion at its Tuesday meeting is a result of the committee’s work, O’Rourke said.
“I don’t want anyone to infer that we went through a charade,” O’Rourke said.
It’s within the city’s rights to contact outside legal sources or other city council members individually regarding the language of the draft ordinance, O’Rourke said.
He emphasized the language in the ordinance is still subject to further public comment and city council approval.
“This process is going to continue to evolve,” O’Rourke said. “That’s the nature of the legislative process.”
O’Rourke also noted the proposed ordinance coming before the city council next week provides greater opportunities to medical marijuana growers than an initial draft this summer, which would have imposed strict limits on the wattage and space available to medical marijuana cultivation efforts.
The new proposal does not contain the initial strict limits, instead using existing building codes as a framework for regulating cultivation.
“I think they miss the point if they don’t compare this to what was being proposed in August,” O’Rourke said.
But DiMatteo, who said he has a 15-year lease on the Third Street property where City of Angels 2 operates, remains concerned that his vested interest in the collective is at risk because of the new language.
“This is like the perfect example of people trying to do good and it being sabotaged,” DiMatteo said.
O’Rourke encouraged DiMatteo, as well as the other collective operators, to provide information regarding their leases to the city council at next week’s meeting so the council can consider the concerns.
The city notified representatives of each collective Wednesday regarding the latest changes to the proposed cultivation ordinance so they wouldn’t “blindside” collective operators by the additional language, O’Rourke said.
City Councilman Bruce Grego, who sat on the cultivation committee, said he was told about the language moving the collectives to the industrial zones, but said he had not seen the actual draft of the ordinance.
Neither had Councilman Bill Crawford, who also sat on the committee. Crawford said he surprised when he received a phone call about the changes. Committee members should have been better informed, Crawford said. DiMatteo agreed.
Grego said he did not have a problem with the changes because the ordinance is still subject to council review and is likely to change.
“Again, this is just a draft, and it should be considered so,” Grego said.
If the council gives initial approval to the cultivation ordinance next week, they would still need to give final approval following a “second reading” of the ordinance at a subsequent meeting.
Also on next week’s city council meeting agenda is discussion about whether to extend an emergency moratorium on the creation of new medical marijuana dispensaries in the city for an additional year.
The city council approved the moratorium in November to get additional time to discuss how to regulate dispensaries through non-emergency channels. The moratorium has been extended once already.
If approved, the year-long extension would be the last available to the city.
Adam Jensen writes for the Tahoe Daily Tribune in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., a sister paper to The Union.
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