Medical marijuana advocates are gathering signatures against the county’s dispensary ordinance, which they say outlaws dispensaries and safe access.
“We’re not going to put up with the way they’re handling this,” said Andrew Merkel, a dispensary operator.
The referendum, if certified with enough signatures, would go to the Board of Supervisors for their decision on whether to repeal the ordinance or put it on the June ballot, Merkel said.
Supervisors voted unanimously Oct. 25 to ban dispensaries in all unincorporated areas of the county.
Signature gatherers and advocates started circulating the petitions Sunday and have tables at Chico State University and near businesses throughout the county, Merkel said. They have already gathered thousands, he said.
Referendum supporters have 30 days from the supervisors’ vote to turn in 7,605 registered Butte County voters’ signatures in support of the referendum, said Candace Grubbs, registrar of voters. Because that lands on the Friday after Thanksgiving, they likely have to give the signatures to the clerk of the board by Nov. 23, a Wednesday.
Grubbs and county elections staff will review the signatures and send them back to the supervisors for their decision, she said. If the board lets the voters decide, it would go on the June ballot with the referendum on residential grows.
Medical marijuana advocates collected enough signatures to halt the residential ordinance passed May 24. The ordinance prohibits cultivating the drug on plots of land smaller than a half-acre in unincorporated areas of the county.
Andrew Merkel spearheaded both referendums. He is the vice president of the last dispensary in Butte County to stop dispensing marijuana, North Valley Holistic Health. Operators stopped cultivating and dispensing in October and laid off all of their employees. Merkel is also the president of Citizens for Compassionate Use Butte County.
Merkel said state law requires that local officials facilitate access to medical marijuana.
“They don’t have the power to change the law,” Merkel said. “That’s what this ordinance does.”
Butte County counsel Bruce Alpert said because the zoning code does not allow dispensaries, the use is prohibited.
“We’re still not going to allow dispensaries to operate with or without the ordinance,” Alpert said.
Though the decision whether to allow dispensaries in Butte County is in the hands of the Board of Supervisors, Alpert said it’s against federal law.
Merkel thinks medical marijuana patients should be able to get the drug because their doctor recommends it. He thinks safe access is an important part of that.
“How are patients going to get their medicine if they can’t grow it?” Merkel asked.
He has had patients come into the dispensary crying because they have no other safe way to get the drug, Merkel said. Growing marijuana takes skill.
“Most of them can’t grow for themselves,” he said.