Santa Clara County officials Tuesday approved a temporary ban of medical marijuana outlets in the mostly rural areas outside city limits governed by the Board of Supervisors.
The board's unanimous vote comes after San Jose this month approved tougher restrictions expected to sharply reduce the number of pot dispensaries within the county's largest city. County officials said they worried that pot clubs forced to close in San Jose would relocate to county areas.
"There is a concern that this will prompt applicants in unincorporated areas," said Deputy County Executive Sylvia Gallegos, adding that in 2016 there is likely to be a state initiative to legalize recreational marijuana use for adults. "We don't want to have the circumstance that due to a lack of planning now we will then have retail sources of marijuana in unincorporated areas."
Supervisors opted for a 45-day moratorium that will prevent pot shops from relocating or opening up in such areas until the matter can be revisited on Aug. 5, after the board's summer recess.
While San Jose saw a large number of cannabis proponents flood into the City Council chamber for the series of meetings that culminated in last week's vote, only a few spoke before county officials on Tuesday. There are currently no collectives operating in unincorporated areas.
Before Tuesday, Santa Clara County allowed medical marijuana dispensaries located in specific zones if they complied with certain planning, zoning and public safety requirements. The moratorium prevents any new dispensaries from applying to open under those code sections. Advocates have argued that they can operate anywhere under California's 1996 initiative allowing medical marijuana. But a recent state Supreme Court ruling allows local governments to regulate or ban them.
Six dispensaries have popped up since 2009. Five were shut down by the Sheriff's Department and code enforcement within a month. A sixth was located in a neighborhood that has since been annexed to San Jose.
Supervisors expressed concerns that dispensaries have increased marijuana use among high-school students. But some also said they wanted to make sure that those with ailments who genuinely benefit from the drug have a place to purchase their medicine.
"I want to keep it open enough that if it turns out there's no other place for people to go, there is still the possibility of people in the county getting it for compassionate use," said Supervisor Ken Yeager.
Another aspect that will be examined involves regulation. The county's Environmental Health Department as well as weights and measures officials could conceivably play a role in helping San Jose keep collectives in check, with food inspections for cannabis edibles as well as certifying scales and scanners to ensure products contain the stated quantity of product sold.
Supervisor Joe Simitian called it frustrating that despite voters approving of the medical use of marijuana nearly two decades ago, very little in terms of regulatory aspects on the federal, state and local level have been developed.
"This is more than timely in terms of saying it's time to sort this out," he said, "and I think this is a good effort."
Contact Eric Kurhi at 408-920-5852. Follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi.