Anthony’s story: Tahoe Herbal Care’s long fight to distribute medical marijuana
TAHOE CITY, Calif. andamp;#8212; Sipping his morning coffee at a local caf, Anthony Mollins rifles through a stack of papers in a thick manilla folder. Stuffed with legal documents, letters and a handful of carefully labeled notes, the folder represents the three years of Mollinsandamp;#8217; life when he and his wife sought andamp;#8212; and failed andamp;#8212; to open a medicinal marijuana collective in Tahoe City.Mollins is president of Tahoe Herbal Care, a medicinal marijuana collective based in Truckee that acts as a delivery service to licensed medical marijuana patients in Tahoe/Truckee region.Meticulously pulling at the pages in his folder, Mollins says he is worried his fledgling nonprofit will again be engulfed by social opposition, this time, in the form of a zoning text amendment proposed by the Placer County planning department to define and disallow all medical marijuana distribution in the county.andamp;#8220;The biggest misconception about medicinal marijuana is that itandamp;#8217;s not medicinal,andamp;#8221; Mollins said with a sigh.Having family members whoandamp;#8217;ve suffered from cancer andamp;#8212; and a cancer survivor himself andamp;#8212; Mollins said he knows the need for medical marijuana. Yet, instead of using his own story as an example, Mollins speaks about a few of his Tahoe Herbal Care clients.andamp;#8220;We have some patients who will cry because they are so happy they can get this medicine and not take all of their pills,andamp;#8221; Mollins said. He recalls one patient who suffered serious side effects after taking her doctorandamp;#8217;s prescribed medicine.andamp;#8220;We have a patient who was taking 14 pills a day and now sheandamp;#8217;s not taking any anymore when sheandamp;#8217;s using this medicine,andamp;#8221; Mollins said.In another example, two patients recently lost their jobs, only to discover shortly after theyandamp;#8217;d been diagnosed with cancer. Mollins remembers when they first began their chemotherapy and watching tears fall down their face when he gave them free medicine.andamp;#8220;I just canandamp;#8217;t figure it out, and Iandamp;#8217;m not sure why youandamp;#8217;d want to ban medicinal marijuana,andamp;#8221; Mollins said.Should the ban be approved by the Placer County Board of Supervisors next week, Mollins said it would force severely infirm patients to drive outside the county or to Colfax to get medications.andamp;#8220;Imagine if you were really sick and the only thing that could really heal you is an hour and a half away and you canandamp;#8217;t go? Mollins asks. andamp;#8220;Well then that means youandamp;#8217;re just sitting there suffering and thereandamp;#8217;s nothing you can do.andamp;#8221;
Still scanning pages, Mollins pauses, flips through a few documents until he comes to a white page stamped with Placer Countyandamp;#8217;s gold seal and signed in blue ink. It is a letter from Michael Johnson, Placer Countyandamp;#8217;s planning agency director, that represents the end of his first attempt, from early 2007 to March 2009, to create a facility for his collective in Tahoe City.andamp;#8220;At this time Placer County does not have any zoning districts that allow for the establishment of medical marijuana cooperatives, collectives, and or associated supporting services (including delivery services),andamp;#8221; Johnson wrote in the letter.In an interview this week, Johnson explained that according to county regulations, whenever a use andamp;#8212; such as medicinal marijuana andamp;#8212; is not defined in county zoning ordinances, he, as agency director, has the duty to interpret the law.andamp;#8220;Dispensaries are not identified as a defined land use, and so by default they are not permitted,andamp;#8221; Johnson said.Jennifer Dzakowic, a county planner and spokeswoman for the planning department, confirmed Johnsonandamp;#8217;s statement and said once Johnson makes a decision, it becomes Placer Countyandamp;#8217;s official position.andamp;#8220;Itandamp;#8217;s part of his duty through the zoning ordinances, and he gets to make those interpretations,andamp;#8221; Dzakowic said.Since Johnsonandamp;#8217;s interpretation counts as Placer Countyandamp;#8217;s official position, Mollinsandamp;#8217; and other similar requests do not have to go before the county board.The countyandamp;#8217;s stance has morphed into nest weekandamp;#8217;s recommendation that supervisors approve the zoning text amendment. Dzakowic has said the planning commission has cited a California Police Chief Association report that medicinal marijuana dispensaries cause crime as a supporting reason for the ban.Taking another sip of his coffee, Mollins shakes his head and says he doesnandamp;#8217;t understand how the county can decide on something thatandamp;#8217;s a medical issue and have no local crime statistics to support it.Mollins likens the situation to a doctor writing prescriptions to patients without a proper diagnosis.
After his business application was denied by Placer County, Mollins decided to pursue an office in Truckee, in Nevada County, without a marijuana distributing storefront. It was his next best option, he said, one he thought would allow him to act as a delivery service to the rest of the North Shore.The gamble paid off in the summer of 2009 and Mollins was able to make the move and establish an office in Truckee. However, Truckee planning officials warned Mollins he could only deliver the medicinal marijuana; selling it out of the office andamp;#8212; even to licensed patients andamp;#8212; is against the collective policy.andamp;#8220;I have nothing but good things to say about Truckee,andamp;#8221; Mollins said. He said Truckee officials worked with him to establish his collective, outlining the dos the donandamp;#8217;ts and clearly explaining the townandamp;#8217;s zoning regulations.Mollins said his hope is Placer County will work with him in the same way.andamp;#8220;If people are compassionate, then they must realize medicinal marijuana helps and itandamp;#8217;s not life threatening,andamp;#8221; Mollins said.Walking out the door of the coffee shop, Mollins turns and says he wants people to understand he is not advocating complete legalization, but regulation for critically ill patients who need medicine. andamp;#8220;Medicinal marijuana makes people who are suffering feel good, and if that werenandamp;#8217;t the case I wouldnandamp;#8217;t be doing this,andamp;#8221; Mollins said.