Santa Ana ‘Legalizes’ Medical Marijuana Dispensaries by Closing Most of Them

IMG_7596Marijuana growers in Santa Ana are about the face much higher levels of government regulation, and many will be forced to close, if a new enforcement plan is approved.
California is one of the few states that allows legal use of medical marijuana and has decriminalized possession of small quantities in general. But while it’s increasingly easy to use cannabis (marijuana) without legal penalties, growing it still draws the attention of law enforcement—and city governments.

But that’s only part of the backdrop behind Santa Ana’s Measure BB. The measure comes after residents in Santa Ana voted to end a seven-year ban on marijuana dispensaries, instead choosing to legalize, regulate and tax them. While that’s good news for medical marijuana users in general, it will make some existing dispensaries legal while likely shuttering others for good.
That’s because Measure BB allows only a limited number of dispensaries—12 of them—to operate legally. The lucky 12 will be chosen by lottery from among those who meet Measure BB’s criteria and file an application.
Criteria include:

  • Dispensaries are located only in two industrial-zoned areas of the city
  • Each dispensary is at least 500 feet from all other dispensaries
  • No dispensary is closer than 1,000 feet from residential areas, schools or parks

Even those that make the cut will face a new level of oversight, as well as stiff taxes—a flat 5% on gross revenue to start with, scaling up to 10% over the coming years. That’s in addition to normal small business taxes.
Currently, most medical marijuana dispensaries operate under the radar, both because of the local ban in Santa Ana and the suspicion that growers/distributors face from law enforcement statewide. (See our guide to medical marijuana to understand the risks that even legal marijuana patients face.)
Dispensaries typically act as cooperative growing establishments, not as outright suppliers, since commercial marijuana farming remains illegal in California. As a cooperative, dispensaries grow only enough marijuana for their dues-paying members, not enough to sell surplus on the street.
While tax revenue from the project will be a substantial boon to the city, it remains to be seen what the overall effect of the new rules will be. A few dispensaries will gain legal status, but the main component of the plan appears to be a long-awaited crackdown on illegal dispensaries. By providing a clear (if narrow) path to legitimate business status, the Santa Ana city government finally has a pretext to close the majority of dispensaries in the area.
Medical marijuana users frequently face harassment by law enforcement and unfair arrests. If you have been arrested in connection to your legal right to consume medical marijuana, a good criminal defense attorney can help you stand up for your rights.

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