Medical marijuana delivery services in Truckee face uncertain future | SierraSun.com

Medical marijuana delivery services in Truckee face uncertain future

TRUCKEE, Calif. — For nearly three years, Jeffrey Naughton has been operating his Truckee-based medical marijuana delivery service, Tahoe Meds, in what he feels is a business-as-usual fashion.

But the business is changing. On Oct. 9, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act. The act, effective Jan. 1, consists of three separate bills that cumulatively regulate medical cannabis dispensaries, delivery services and cultivation.

The bill known as AB 266 is the core of the new law. It requires dispensaries and delivery services to secure not only state permits, but local permits as well — approval must be obtained by Jan. 1, 2018.

Previously, dating back to when medical marijuana was first legalized in 1996, only state approval was needed.

"We're looking at the new law that says, OK, we're currently operating legally, but we won't be able to operate legally after Jan. 1, 2018," said Naughton, whose Tahoe Meds delivery service brings "North Lake Tahoe top shelf indoor medicines at bottom shelf prices," according to its website. "So we got to make changes, because we want to continue to operate legally. We will not operate illegally.

"It's been the 'Wild West' for a long time. I think here in Truckee it was particularly the 'Wild West' because this is a municipality that doesn't really grant business licenses."

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According to town code, the town of Truckee does not require business licenses except for taxi services and firearm dealers.

Naughton is all for delivery services operating under a set of established guidelines at both the state and local levels — "I always think local control is better than shipping it off anywhere," he said.

First and foremost, though, Naughton hopes the town of Truckee continues to allow delivery services like Tahoe Meds and others based in Truckee to operate.

"I believe in what we do," he said. "I think we do a good job of it, I feel good about it every day."

BUT ARE THEY LEGAL IN THE FIRST PLACE?

The uncertain future of medical marijuana in Truckee came to light a month ago during town council's Nov. 10 meeting.

Currently, according to town staff, dispensaries are not an allowed use in Truckee Development Code, and therefore not allowed in town limits. Further, cultivation (except by individual patients for legal personal use) is also not allowed.

Therefore, at the Nov. 10 meeting, Community Development Director John McLaughlin made the recommendation that council vote to take a formal stance on medical marijuana and continue to prohibit dispensaries and cultivation in town.

Part of McLaughlin's recommendation was also "to expressly ban deliveries of medical marijuana" within town limits. This drew the most discussion from town council and staff, as well as residents, medical marijuana patients and representatives of local delivery services.

Like dispensaries, delivery services are not legal businesses, per town development code. However, delivery services have operated in town limits over the years with little, if any, legal resistance.

"It already is illegal today … whether we do anything or not," Truckee Police Chief Adam McGill said at the meeting. "… 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."

According to research, there are four such "businesses" that deliver medical marijuana in Truckee and on the California side of North Lake Tahoe — Tahoe Meds, Tahoe Herbal Care, Green Trees Wellness and Compassionate Botanical Delivery.

All offer varying levels of delivery and products, including anything from smokeable medicinal pot to hand-crafted edibles (like cookies and chocolate bars), to more exotic options like cold-pressed coffees or even tattoo-healing balm.

'WE'RE NOT GOING BACKWARDS'

Considering the existence of these services that are set up to cater to residents defined by California as legal medical marijuana patients, many locals on Nov. 10 urged council to not approve staff's recommendation, including Dave Polivy, who said "banning deliveries … is simply short sighted and potentially detrimental to the town."

Several others noted a vote to ban could have adverse impacts on local patients who need the medication to function.

On the other side, some members of the public asked for council to vote for the ban due to dangerous impacts marijuana — which is still categorized by the federal government as an illegal drug — can have on people, especially Truckee's youth.

In the end, the council opted to table the discussion, with Mayor Alicia Barr noting that, "to me, a ban sends the wrong message."

In a follow-up interview, McLaughlin said the town wasn't making an effort to prohibit, but rather to maintain local control, and then council could revisit the issues at a later date to fine-tune local ordinances based on what the community wants.

"The steps we're taking are in line with what the legislation dealt us, that we take action to maintain local control," he said. "I think it was great that everybody showed up; it definitely provided some influence on the council. The council became very aware of medical marijuana use in the community and recognized that we need to balance a variety of issues, and agreed that we'll just continue to do as we do today while we now wait for the next steps to happen at the state level.

"When that's clarified, we're going to step up with a more robust public process."

Naughton said for the medical marijuana supporters, the decision to table was "the best response we could get."

"The answer isn't just make everything illegal, then wait and see," he continued. "We're not going backwards, and I think that's the most important thing that we saw at the town meeting. The town council seems like they're not willing to go backwards, either, and that's a healthy attitude."

NEXT STEPS

Last week, Naughton and colleagues spent time drafting a letter to California NORML, an organization dedicated to reforming the state's marijuana laws.

The purpose of the letter, Naughton said, "is to request Cal NORML to assist us in assisting the (town of Truckee) with drafting legislation that dovetails with the state's legislation."

In other words, Naughton wants to work with the local government to ensure everyone is on the same page.

"That's part of what good policy is about — finding frameworks that work for everybody," he said. "That's sort of our responsibility, to fill that void from at least our perspective … Law enforcement has to have their piece of input, schools, and families, the resorts — everybody should have their input and we should be able to address everybody's concerns.

"We're definitely smart enough to figure this out in our community."

Meanwhile, in February 2016, Truckee Town Council is expected to deliberate about AB 243, the bill in the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act specific to medical marijuana cultivation.

Unless legislative changes occur, that bill sets a deadline of March 1, 2016 — meaning the council must make a decision before then on whether it is going to implement land use regulations for cultivation or default to the state's authority.

Since delivery services like Tahoe Meds obtain their product from small growers, Naughton doesn't see the cultivation bill as a primary concern.

"I haven't looked a lot at the cultivation here because most of our growers are so small and so boutique, they're not going to be considered commercial operations," he said.

Following the council's decision on cultivation, McLaughlin said that eventually a "full-on public process" would be carried out regarding medical marijuana in Truckee.

This would entail a series of public hearings and workshops "to allow the public to be educated on the topic as well as allow people to comment," McLaughlin said. Timeframes are to be determined.

Sun Managing Editor Kevin MacMillan contributed to this report.

More online

Visit ttctv.org/online-services/town-of-truckee, then click on the Nov. 10, 2015, Truckee Town Council meeting link to watch video from the meeting.

You can also visit bit.ly/1TYn7Ww to read the agenda from that meeting, which further details the town’s recommendations.

In regards to medical marijuana delivery services operating in the Truckee-Tahoe region, visit the websites of each to learn more:

Tahoe Meds: tahoemeds.com

Tahoe Herbal Care: tahoeherbal.co

Green Trees Wellness: greentreeswellness.com

Compassionate Botanical Delivery: compassionatebotanicaldelivery.com

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Medical marijuana demand

According to a 2014 survey done by the Public Health Institute in Sacramento, an estimated 5 percent of California adults have used medical marijuana.

The most commonly known benefits of medicinal cannabis include relieving pain, seizures, nausea and vomiting, inflammation and anxiety.

Jeffrey Naughton of Tahoe Meds said that if Truckee prohibited dispensaries and deliveries, it would be a massive inconvenience for patients who rely on getting their medicine locally.

“You would force people to drive hours to other communities for medicine,” he said. “They’ll go find it; they’re not going to be without it. When something works for you, especially when something works for you and you’re desperate, you figure out how to get it.

“Before medical marijuana, I’m sure there were desperate people going to the streets.”

In Naughton’s eyes, a major benefit of local delivery is the safe access it provides, meaning patients are less likely to get their medication off the streets.

“We make it really hard for drug dealers to operate,” he said. “Having good access in any community makes it really hard for drug dealers of marijuana — illegal drug dealers — to exist. Because a regular user (of medical marijuana) is usually going to have a recommendation, and why not get it legitimately, without worry, as opposed to going to the streets?

“It’s the best, safest access point we got,” he continued. “Your drug dealer isn’t testing your meds. It’s easier to hold a legitimate business accountable than it is to hold a drug dealer accountable for bad medicines.”