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Inyo County residents who have received a medical marijuana recommendation from their doctor no longer have to travel as far as Los Angeles or Tahoe to pick up their medicine.
Mammoth Lakes Wellness, a medical marijuana cooperative owned by Robert Calvert, has opened at 33999 Main Street in Mammoth and is currently accepting customers.
Back in February of 2007, Big Pine resident Brett Bermingham meet with the Bishop City Council and the Inyo County Board of Supervisors to discuss his idea to open a medical marijuana dispensary locally.
Following its meeting with Bermingham, the Bishop City Council drafted Ordinance 521, effectively banning medical marijuana dispensaries within the city limits.
At the time, council members said that, despite Californiaâ€™s Prop. 215, the Compassionate Use Act, which legalizes marijuana for medical patients, the federal government maintains a prohibition on the drug that the city would uphold.
When Bermingham brought his proposal before the Board of Supervisors, county leaders said there is nothing in the countyâ€™s planning code that would permit a medical marijuana dispensary, and refused to update or amend the code to provide for such facilities.
When the idea of opening a dispensary in Mammoth Lakes came up, the local government elected to put it to a vote and allow the residents to decide.
Voters approved two dispensaries, with a caveat that allowed the Mammoth Lakes Police Department to screen the applicants.
Five residents applied, and Chief Dan Watson said he approved three applicants. From there the Mammoth Lakes Planning Department took a closer look at those three applicantâ€™s proposed locations and approved Robert Calvertâ€™s Mammoth Lakes Wellness, Inc. and a second plan laid out by Steve Clausen.
â€śWe were very much involved with the process of authorizing the two applicants,â€ť Chief Watson said. â€śWe did background checks on all the applicants. It was an extensive process.â€ť
In addition to the background checks, Watson said the police department looked at each applicantâ€™s proposals for security and lighting, to be sure the businesses and their customers have safeguards against potential burglars and thieves.
As an added precaution, the Mammoth Lakes Police Department has the ability to conduct random inspections of the facilities to be sure they are operating within the boundaries of the law.
â€śWe will be inspecting the facilities,â€ť Watson said, â€śBut we wonâ€™t be camping out out there.â€ť
Also, residents who have a medical marijuana recommendation are required to go through a screening process at Mammoth Lakes Wellness that allows the cooperative to verify that each resident who joins has a valid recommendation from a doctor.
â€śYou have to meet with a doctor to get your recommendation, then register here to become a permanent member of the cooperative,â€ť Calvert, the owner of Mammoth Wellness, Inc. said. â€śWe operate as a non-profit under the State Attorney General guidelines.â€ť
Despite those precautions, there are still concerns that there are those out there who can forge or obtain ill-gotten recommendations to purchase marijuana.
â€śI know Iâ€™m not the only one that believes that there are people out there with the ability to get fraudulent cards,â€ť Chief Watson said. â€śI donâ€™t think that the dispensaries should be held accountable for that.â€ť
Watson said it is the responsibility of the dispensaries to verify any recommendation that is brought to them by a resident, but pointed out that the employees of the facilities are not physicians, and do not have the ability to verify if the doctor who wrote the recommendation is on the level.
Chief Watson said that any resident who has a medical marijuana recommendation should carry it on their person any time they are transporting marijuana from the dispensary to their home. He also pointed out that citizens are not permitted to smoke or otherwise consume marijuana at the cooperativeâ€™s location or anywhere other than a private residence.
Since opening its doors this past weekend, Calvert said he has seen some interest from Inyo County residents who have their medical marijuana recommendation.
He also said that he hopes to begin a delivery service in the coming weeks. It is currently unclear if Mammoth Lakes Wellness will be able to deliver in Inyo County, considering its current zoning laws.
The Mammoth Lakes Wellness Web site, www.mammothlakeswellness.com, includes a menu outlining what kinds of strains of marijuana are available for sale (more than a dozen) and the prices.
As a new business in town, Calvert said he is looking forward to participating in community events and supporting local charities and non-profits with a focus on arts and education.
â€śOne of the hallmarks of a well-run medical marijuana cooperative is its positive role in the community,â€ť Calvert said. â€śMammoth Lakes Wellness, Inc. has a good neighbor policy to ensure that we contribute to the overall wellbeing of the neighborhood.â€ť