Last Wednesday night the Community Services District board convened to hear public comment on the healing center proposed by Laura Hamburg for downtown Boonville. Most Boonville people, if not all of them, believe Ms. Hamburg wants to sell marijuana-based goods and marijuana itself out of the former Boonville Ambulance shed.
The first item on the agenda was called “Recognition of guests and hearing of the public. Laura Hamburg — proposed marijuana dispensary in Boonville.” Board Chair Diane Paget began by saying that she was going to “dispense” with the roll call for the evening.
No one mentioned the Board’s strongly worded letter to the County Planning Department last month expressing opposition to the marijuana dispensary at the proposed downtown Boonville location until and unless the public had an opportunity to weigh in on the subject.
Ms. Paget explained that the Board had no jurisdiction over the matter, and that all the Board intended to do was provide a forum for discussion.[As it stands, all a marijuana dispensary needs in Mendocino County is a business license.]
Ms. Hamburg, an attractive and articulate woman of forty or so, began her brief opening presentation by saying that in light of the negative comments she has been hearing she had decided not to sell any marijuana or any marijuana products – “ever” — at the downtown Boonville “alternative healing center” she’s calling “Mendocino Generations.” Ms. Hamburg expressed her support for the dispensary ordinance process the County is undertaking and to describe the benefits of marijuana as medicine, citing how the drug has medicinally helped members of her own family.
When dispensary advocate and friend of the Hamburg family Carole Brodsky asked the audience if they believed marijuana had medicinal value, almost all the hands in the room went up. Many of the ensuing comments about the healing properties of marijuana were redundant but, of course, it’s Mendocino County and the show went on.
Several locals accused Ms. Hamburg of “trying to jam this down our throats,” although there she was to explain that she'd
already decided not to sell marijuana. Another belligerant demanded, “Why don't you open the dispensary in your own house?” Another said simply, “We don't believe you!”
Others opposed to the dispensary in downtown Boonville cited more problems for law enforcement, the potential for crime, the effect on “the kids” who can be confused by the legitimatizing of marijuana when it is known it has negative effects on the “developing brain.” (Consumption of marijuana among Anderson Valley's young people is assumed to be widespread.)
Ms. Hamburg insisted that her dispensary will “absolutely” not sell any marijuana to kids, and on in the invidious argument that marijuana's not as bad as the alcohol which pervades the Valley. She pointed out that providing information about the medical benefits of marijuana is not equivalent to giving a green light for pot smoking to kids, a distinction most young people wouldn't seem to be capable of making.
When asked why she had decided to open her dispensary in the Anderson Valley, Ms. Hamburg said the she would do it “legally and with honor.” (Some people privately such as speculate that if Ms. Hamburg doesn't operate a dispensary in Boonville, one of the bigger dispensary chains, such as San Francisco-based Northstone Organics, will find a place to open here as soon as the new dispensary ordinance is in place.)
When asked about the easy availability of marijuana in Anderson Valley and the apparent lack of a local need for a dispensary, Ms. Hamburg said that medical patients are more interested in getting their medicine legally from a “certified herbalist” (i.e., one of her cooperative partners) than taking what they can get on the street without any accompanying medical information.
Asked about the status of her business license, Ms. Hamburg said that the County Planning Department had evaluated the adjacent Valley Bible Fellowship and determined it was not really a school and that therefore her license would not be denied on those grounds. She also said that she had elected not to use the word “marijuana” on her initial business license application because other dispensaries had avoided using the word and she didn't want to create a problem for the County. Ms. Hamburg explained that without a formal marijuana dispensary ordnance in place, she didn't want to ask the County to license marijuana sales and thus force the County into a liability corner.
Ms. Hamburg also said that her license had been approved by the Planning Department, but it had not yet been approved by the Building Department because some modifications to the old ambulance barn building still had to be completed before the license would be approved.
Several audience members, most of whom probably voted against Proposition 215 back in 1996, expressed skepticism about Ms. Hamburg's promise not to sell pot. They thought that Ms. Hamburg might open her dispensary now without dealing in marijuana, but then, when an ordinance is in place, add it to her inventory.
Ms. Hamburg and her partners tried to explain that in other cities where dispensaries have opened, crime goes down, not up. But the locals who disapprove of the dispensary, especially in the proposed location, were skeptical of that too.
Several persons asked Ms. Hamburg to simply postpone her plans until a dispensary ordinance is in place.
Retired nurse Ginger Valen suggested that Ms. Hamburg do the actual “dispensing” of marijuana at the Anderson Valley Health Clinic which, Ms. Valen said, had room for such an operation.
Ms. Hamburg said she would consider it.
Boonville resident Bob Sites said that it seemed to him the primary purpose of the dispensary would be to sell marijuana to tourists, not locals; therefore locating it in downtown Boonville would be a bad idea for locals.
Carole Brodsky responded by saying that the two dispensaries in the village of Mendocino had done a survey of their customers and 85% of them were from Mendocino County zip codes.
Philo’s Bev Dutra responded to that by saying that she had seen advertisements which amounted to invitations for city people to come on up to Boonville to purchase their marijuana.
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After the public had spoken, board member Andrea LaCampagne said that she was split on the subject and the location. “If I were sick I would like to be able to rely on someone locally to obtain my medicine,” she said, adding that there were more problems with the beer festival than with the drug-soaked Sierra Nevada World Music Festival. “Why not give marijuana at a local license?” asked LaCampagne rhetorically. “Medical marijuana is not going away, and if Ms. Hamburg opens her dispensary she will be under a constant microscope. People seem to be reasonably happy with the dispensaries in other parts of the county.”
Board member Valerie Hanelt said she agreed that medical marijuana can help some conditions but that it seemed like dispensaries were just places where people could get “really good weed.”
Board member Kirk Wilder said that marijuana needs to be federally legalized but that at present marijuana drives the crime engine and everybody seemed to be growing in their backyard around here without any control.
Ms. Hamburg concluded by pointing out that Anderson Valley had some of the most talented marijuana growers and producers in the state and Mendocino County was already famous for being “a producer county,” so why not have a dispensary here? “This is not about kids,” Ms. Hamburg again insisted.
Fire Chief Colin Wilson pointed out that he had been in touch with Supervisor John McCowen and he understood that in the near future a meeting on the marijuana dispensary ordnance would probably be held in the Boonville Fairgrounds Apple Hall.
Left unaddressed, however, was the Board’s rather strong letter opposing the dispensary in the proposed location; that letter which was dispatched to the County Building and Planning Department last month.
After urging the County to impose a moratorium on dispensaries until an ordinance is in place, that letter concluded, “The Board also feels that the general public must be allowed input on this controversial issue. In order to sell beer or wine numerous State and local permits must be obtained. There must be public notice of the intent to sell with opportunity for the public to respond. Currently, there are no such requirements for opening a medical marijuana dispensary. The Board does not agree with this current situation as the potential impact on current business activity within Boonville should be evaluated and considered before allowing such a facility to open.”
After a short recess during which the people who had attended only for the marijuana dispensary discussion departed, the Board agreed to revisit their letter to the Board of Supervisors next month in light of public input and Ms. Hamburg’s decision not to sell marijuana or related products.