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May 25th
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Supervisor John Leopold

John_LeopoldSThe county recently created new rules on medical marijuana dispensaries. Why, and what will they accomplish?

In 1996, the voters of Santa Cruz County passed Proposition 215, the California Compassionate Use Act, by a 74 percent margin. This overwhelming support demonstrated the resolve of our community to ensure access to alternative medicines that provide relief to those suffering from illness.

Since that time there has been an evolving set of regulations to fulfill the voters' wishes. Thirteen other states have passed compassionate use regulations. The election of President Barack Obama led to a new direction in federal drug policies; a memo from Attorney General Eric Holder specifically articulated that U.S. Justice Department law enforcement agencies would not pursue cases involving dispensaries operating within local laws.

As new rules and policy directions have been implemented, medical marijuana dispensaries began to be more widely established throughout California and across the country. Over the last year, several medical marijuana dispensaries have opened throughout the unincorporated areas [of Santa Cruz County] creating the need to develop regulations to create order instead of chaos.

Supervisor Neal Coonerty and I outlined the elements in an ordinance regulating dispensaries in the unincorporated areas of Santa Cruz County. Our county has the benefit of looking at ordinances in eight other counties and 37 cities. An innovative component of our proposal is to include a provision that allows low-income patients to receive their medicine at a reduced price.

The board unanimously agreed to modify our planning rules to cover these dispensaries in commercial areas of our county. We directed County Counsel to draft an ordinance that will provide planning guidance for this new business segment, ensure that patients of all income levels have access to prescribed medicine and establish clear rules for our Sheriff's Office to enforce.

Our county's responsibility should not interfere with the patient/doctor relationship, but should focus on good planning principles that support access for medical marijuana patients. We did not support an arbitrary limit on the number of dispensaries. A limit creates a monopoly, which may not be in the best interests of the public and may drive up prices.

The board also agreed to a temporary moratorium on new dispensaries until an ordinance is adopted. A draft ordinance will come back to the board at the Nov. 9 meeting.

The economy has been slow to recover here in Santa Cruz County. What is the county doing to support economic

development?

Upon assuming office in 2009 I asked to meet with the staff member responsible for Economic Development, only to find out that there is no one in county government who is focused on economic development all day, every day. Working with my colleagues, I pushed for the creation of a new position for the county whose primary focus would be economic development for the 55 percent of our county’s population who live in the unincorporated part of our county. After a long, nationwide search, I am pleased to report that starting this month, David Dobson will be the Economic Development Manager working within the Redevelopment Agency.

David is coming to Santa Cruz after a successful career in El Paso, Texas, Peoria, Ill., and several communities in Southern California. David identified that the most important component leading to the success of an economic development strategy is through inclusive community processes. He believes that involvement of community stakeholders is essential to the development and implementation of economic efforts from neighborhood and regional levels. Our community has already identified economic vitality as a priority in our new five-year plan for the Redevelopment Agency, and David is prepared to build on the community process to help us achieve our economic goals.

During his career, David led the efforts to develop the “Heart of Peoria” plan that engaged thousands of local residents in the creation of an economic strategy. This plan resulted in new focused private sector investments and key federal and state participation without the need of heavy public subsidies to induce development.  In El Paso, David developed a strategy that focused on business retention and expansion as the primary foundation of economic development efforts.

Our community is, of course, significantly different from these two examples, but the concepts of community inclusion and building on the success of our existing businesses are very appropriate for our area. David has already shown great initiative in getting out and learning about the area—so look for him soon.

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