Pot business opens north of Modesto; county says it's not legal

etracy@modbee.comJuly 21, 2013 

    Erin Tracy
    Title: Breaking news reporter
    Coverage areas: Breaking news, crime
    Bio: Erin Tracy started working for The Bee in September 2010. She has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University and previously worked at the Daily Democrat in Woodland and the Times-Standard in Eureka.
    Recent stories written by Erin
    On Twitter: @ModestoBeeCrime
    E-mail: etracy@modbee.com

— A second marijuana dispensary has opened in Stanislaus County, just north of Modesto.

The Modesto Center of Organic Resourses opened July 2 in a complex on McHenry Avenue north of Pelandale Avenue, according to its advertisement on weedmaps.com, a website that links medical marijuana users with dispensaries and collectives.

Dispensaries cannot legally operate in the county because a permit is required and the county is not currently issuing permits, said County Counsel John Doering.

Neither the Modesto dispensary nor a dispensary near Oakdale called Kiona's Farm'acy has a permit to operate. Kiona's, which opened in October, does have a business license, which the Modesto Center of Organic Resourses is lacking.

Owners of both have not responded to multiple requests for interviews.

An ordinance outlining the regulations for dispensaries in the county exists only as a space holder should federal and state laws someday align, Doering said.

Possessing and growing cannabis for medicinal use in California has conflicted with federal law since 1996, when it became legal under Proposition 215. But there never has been a statewide agency to regulate the industry, and a bill that would have created one failed in the Assembly last month.

Mike Choate, who co-owns Modesto CrossFit in the same McHenry Avenue complex, said he isn't opposed to being business neighbors with a dispensary, as long as it is operating legally.

Choate said his wife, who suffers from chronic Lyme disease, benefits from the medicinal qualities of marijuana, but he thinks the industry needs more oversight and better regulations.

He's concerned that a dispensary that isn't following all the rules might attract a criminal element that could negatively affect his business, primarily the potential for robbery and unsavory customers.

But so far, Choate said, the Modesto Center for Organic Resourses has been a fine neighbor. He said he's seen about 10 people a day visit the dispensary.

Over the years, dispensaries in the city of Modesto and in the county have been driven out by local law enforcement and many owners prosecuted.

A dispensary operating in the same complex was raided by the Stanislaus Drug Enforcement Agency in 2006. Investigators said soaps and lotions were sold in the storefront, but marijuana was sold out of a back room.

Brothers Michael and Shannon O'Leary were arrested. In exchange for charges being dropped against his younger brother, Michael O'Leary pleaded no contest to maintaining a place for the purpose of unlawfully selling, giving away or using controlled substances. He was sentenced to 180 days in jail and three years' probation.

David Jones, director of legislative affairs and communications for the county, said there is no pending legal action against Kiona's. He had no information on the Center of Organic Resourses.

Bee staff writer Erin Tracy can be reached at etracy@modbee.com or (209)578-2366. Follow her on Twitter, @ModestoBeeCrime.

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