The topic of medical marijuana made its way back to the South Lake Tahoe City Council on Tuesday, where law enforcement officials spoke about problems with illegal grows in the community and issues they have with the lone dispensary.
During his presentation to councilmembers, South Lake Tahoe Police Chief Brian Uhler touched on concerns he has with record-keeping at the Tahoe Wellness Cooperative, as well as questions he has with the dispensary’s operations.
Among other things, he said it is impossible for the cooperative to serve as the “primary caregiver” to its more than 19,000 members, as described by the law, and that the dispensary has provided inadequate records to assure police that it is actually a not-for-profit operation.
According to city staff, the dispensary has violated several portions of the related city ordinance, including not producing certain documents within a 24-hour period upon request.
Uhler presented a few options to the council to help resolve the issues. They include requiring the dispensary to only obtain marijuana from permitted cultivators, imposing limits on amounts supplied to the dispensary by permitted cultivators and adding more detail in the city code about specific records at the dispensary.
No action was taken Tuesday, but councilmembers did hold a discussion after the presentation. Mayor Hal Cole started by questioning if making additions to the city code was really the right course of action.
“I do realize that there is a problem with both the cultivation of marijuana in our town and the way the dispensary is dealing with the purchase and sale of it and record-keeping,” he said. “But I’m not a big proponent of (continuing to write) new ordinances if I don’t have to.”
Cole asked Uhler if he believed a lot of the problems could be mitigated through better enforcement of existing city codes, to which Uhler responded that he thinks police are doing a good job of enforcing what it can now.
“Well I think the question would be to what level would that enforcement be taken,” Uhler said. “I mean I think there could be some arrangement where there’s some agreed on period for them to come into compliance and provide those assurances for the future, yeah.”
“It’s not my intent to suggest that we take any Draconian action here. I think that, because the code was adopted quite some time ago, we’ve identified some issues with the code. A few little tweaks would help.”
Councilwoman JoAnn Conner said she felt like Uhler was targeting the dispensary, and that the council needs to discuss in the future whether the city needs more ordinances and how it can more effectively enforce what’s already in place.
Uhler argued that he’s not targeting the dispensary in any way, but that he’s only interested in some level of assurance that the operation is being done legally.
“That’s all I want to see,” he said. “And I think there is lots of evidence and lots of concerns that indicate to me that maybe that’s not the case. And I say maybe because I think it’s important to give everyone concerned the opportunity to adjust.”
Cody Bass, operator of the Tahoe Wellness Cooperative, told the council the dispensary has submitted more than 3,000 pages of documents following an earlier routine audit, which he said shows a level of transparency that is unsurpassed by most dispensaries in the state.
“There is nothing we have done but act lawfully to our patients and to the city in requiring what you have asked for,” he said, adding that he’s willing to continue working with the city on any issues staff might have.
As for residential grows, Bass said many medical marijuana growers are hesitant to register with the city because they’re concerned about repercussions from the federal government.
“If we go forward and we want to write new code, we need to protect the patient (for he/she) to feel comfortable and to have protections that you guys aren’t just going to hand over their records to the federal government if that were to be the case,” he said.
Councilmember Tom Davis asked Bass where the cannabis comes from to supply the dispensary’s 19,000 members — more than 8,000 of which are locals — since there are only nine permitted growers in the city.
Bass answered that a lot of it comes from Grass Valley and Mendocino County. He also said the cooperative does not ask for a home-grow permit from locals since it’s not a requirement written into the city ordinance.
With an estimated 300 grows in the city, Uhler said he made the presentation to the council because he has a responsibility to inform them of the risks marijuana cultivation brings, including the higher potential of fire in a forest community.
As for enforcement, Sgt. Matt Underhill, commander of the South Lake El Dorado Narcotics Enforcement Team (SLEDNET), said the task force is doing the best it can to attack the drug problem in the community.
SLEDNET walks away from about one-third of the marijuana grows it investigates because the operations are compliant with the law. However, the majority are growing to gain profit, he said.
“So that becomes a community problem that we keep running into over and over and over again that takes up about 50 percent of our time,” he said.
Law enforcement has addressed 13 illegal grows so far this year.
Councilmembers agreed to hold off on talking about any direction or action they might take following Uhler’s presentation. The plan is to revisit the topic at the Oct. 7 city council meeting.
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