Pot delivery in Truckee, Nevada Co.: Obeying the law, or a hands-off policy? | SierraSun.com

Pot delivery in Truckee, Nevada Co.: Obeying the law, or a hands-off policy?

NEVADA CITY, Calif. — There's no reason someone would know the vehicle across the street is delivering medical marijuana.

Such deliveries, which happen in Nevada County and the Tahoe-Truckee region, produce no strong odor like marijuana grows. They draw no increased traffic and lead to no formal complaints.

And then, once the transaction occurs, the vehicle is gone.

What remains are questions about the legality of delivering medical marijuana in a county that prohibits commercial cannabis and in cities that forbid dispensaries.

Stakeholders in the state's burgeoning medical marijuana industry have different opinions about the law and the delivery of medicinal cannabis.

Authorities point to local ordinances restricting the practice, though they add they've taken a hands-off approach. Managers of collectives say they're within the law to deliver medicine to their members.

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"It's a very complicated question," said Melissa Sanchez, an attorney who represents some Nevada County cannabis growers. "It's a big gray area."

Special delivery

Jeff Naughton, managing member of Tahoe Meds, operates his collective in the North Lake Tahoe area and Truckee. In operation for more than three years, Tahoe Meds has about 3,600 members.

The collective has no physical location.

"We have to deliver," Naughton said. "That's how we are compliant. We can do anything that any normal person can do when you're a member of a club or a private entity."

All of Tahoe Meds' members lived, at least at some point, in the area. Leaving the region doesn't negate their membership. The collective can, and does, deliver to its members throughout the state.

Tahoe Meds delivers medical marijuana by car. Special ground shipping contracts are used to deliver to members outside of the region. Naughton advises against using the U.S. Postal Service for medicinal cannabis.

Naughton said his path to managing member of a collective began in his early 20s, when he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis.

Naughton refused to use medical marijuana, a decision he now regrets. He believes medical marijuana could have saved him some $700,000 in surgical bills and hospital stays.

"I was very anti-marijuana," he said. "I bought into the 'This is your brain on drugs.'"

Then, after one particular surgery, Naughton tried medical cannabis. It worked. Issues stemming from his ulcerative colitis recede after about 24 hours of use, he said.

Tahoe Meds is one of a handful of delivery services operating in the area.

Dillon, who declined to give his last name, is the manager of Cannabus, which is based in Nevada City. It delivers to members throughout Nevada County, including areas where authorities say it's forbidden.

Dillon, however, said California law states that patients are allowed to get their medicine. He added that he respects local law, but questions how well it's defined.

"We try our best to comply with the ever-evolving stream of this industry," he added.

The law

The California Legislature last year passed the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, or MMRSA, which creates new agencies and tasks existing ones to implement sweeping statewide regulations.

A key date in the new law is Jan. 1, 2018, when state officials should be prepared to issue permits for dispensaries. A dispensary must have both state and local permits to operate. Local jurisdictions can opt against issuing permits, which mean delivery services like Tahoe Meds and Cannabus would have to relocate or cease to exist.

According to Sanchez, a clean-up bill — AB 1575 — would require delivery services to have a fixed, physical office. That office wouldn't necessarily need to be open to the public.

"It's hard to regulate," Sanchez said of delivery services without a physical office. "You can't really tell where it is."

Assemblyman Rob Bonta, a sponsor of AB 1575, said in a statement that his bill facilities the transition to a regulated market.

"AB 1575 recognizes the crucial role delivery plays in providing medical cannabis to patients by allowing state licensed delivery-only dispensaries," Bonta states.

Naughton likes MMRSA. He said he wants rules that are easy to follow. He also wants a permit from Truckee. Naughton said he's spoken with town officials about it, though no movement has occurred.

Dillon, with Cannabus, said he'd relocate if Nevada City opted against issuing permits.

Both Naughton and Dillon said they pay taxes.

"If Nevada County says deliveries are illegal, that's fine," Dillon said. "We'll go pay our taxes somewhere else."

Add to the confusion that some local medical marijuana advocates say Nevada County's new grow ordinance prohibits collectives.

Patricia Smith, chairwoman of the Nevada County chapter of Americans for Safe Access, said MMRSA allows only 100-square-foot personal grows. Anything over that requires a license.

Alison Barratt-Green, county counsel, said nothing in the county's ordinance prohibits collectives.

"We don't regulate who they're growing for," she added. "We only regulate, for the nuisance issue, size of grows and locations of grows."

Sanchez said the ordinance doesn't explicitly ban collectives, though it makes them seemingly impossible because of the plant limitations the county imposed.

Grows must be on the proper zoning. Larger plant numbers are allowed on bigger parcels, with the biggest being 25 plants on more than 20 acres.

Enforcement

According to Sheriff Keith Royal, delivering medical marijuana in the unincorporated part of Nevada County violates the county's marijuana ordinance. However, Royal noted that his office hasn't received complaints about deliveries.

"It hasn't been a big issue for us," he added. "It's flown low on the radar."

Grass Valley City Manager Bob Richardson said deliveries are prohibited in the city. Much like the unincorporated county, it's a non-issue.

"It's not something that we receive complaints about," Grass Valley Police Chief Alex Gammelgard said. "It would be complaint driven."

Tim Foley, Nevada City police chief, said his office has received no complaints about medical marijuana deliveries.

Truckee Police Capt. Rob Leftwich said the same, adding that no crimes have stemmed from the delivery services. They pose no problem to the community, which has led authorities not to pursue them.

Police would closely examine the medical marijuana delivery services if authorities began to see crime connected to them.

"This is going to be a land-use issue for Truckee," Leftwich said.

Tony Lashbrook, Truckee town manager, said delivery services that have no physical office have no zoning requirement. The town doesn't have business licenses, meaning the service is unregulated in those respects.

Lashbrook deferred when asked if delivering medical marijuana is legal or if it warrants an arrest.

"That's a complicated question," he said.

Alan Riquelmy is a staff writer with The Union newspaper, a sister paper of the Sierra Sun that serves Nevada City, Grass Valley and other communities in the Sierra Foothills.

Legal or not?

While the question about if delivering medical marijuana in Nevada County — and the town of Truckee — is or isn’t legal may be complicated, Truckee Police Chief Adam McGill spoke about the issue during the Nov. 10 Truckee Town Council meeting, when officials discussed MMRSA and the town’s laws regarding medical marijuana.

“It already is illegal today … whether we do anything or not,” McGill said, according to a Dec. 8 Sierra Sun story. “… Truckee Police has been aware, at least since 2010, that we have at least two businesses operating in our jurisdiction, delivering medical marijuana … and to date, there have been zero arrests for that activity … nor do we plan to do so.”

Click here to read that story and more about the issue.