Illustration by Louise Leong.
Illustration by Louise Leong.

The Santa Cruz City Council is working for more transparency in the financial records of the two medical marijuana dispensaries in Santa Cruz. The dispensaries in question are Greenway Compassionate Relief and the Santa Cruz Patient Collective.

According to Council Member Don Lane, “We want to make sure that we have access for those who need it, see that it is affordable for those who need it, and make sure that the dispensaries are in compliance with the current rules.”

These current rules focus less on the product of marijuana, and more on the business side of dispensaries.

For instance, California Senate Bill 420, which passed in 2004, does not explicitly “authorize any individual or group to cultivate or distribute marijuana for profit.” This means that dispensaries must be nonprofits, which center on providing a service, not making the owners wealthy. As Lane said, “Nonprofits in general are not owned by individuals — they’re owned by a community.”

On April 27, the City Council will officially decide on the procedures they will use to verify the two dispensaries’ statuses as nonprofits. Meanwhile, “[The procedures are] still being ironed out by a small subcommittee of city council members,” said Council Member Tony Madrigal.

“There needs to be some accountability,” said Captain Steve Clark of the Santa Cruz Police Department. “They need to be operating within the parameters that the state set up.”

Madrigal observed that “the dispensaries have been very cooperative so far.” However, Lane said he does have some concerns.

“There seems to be a little reluctance with [providing] the financial information,” he said.

A reason for that reluctance likely has to do with confidentiality.

“I think their main concern is ensuring the privacy of their patients,” Madrigal said.

Clark says he has his own doubts about the integrity of medical marijuana dispensaries.

“It was surprising when one of the collectives wanted a ten thousand square foot indoor growing operation … that causes us to question how much is really necessary to serve the legitimate medical needs in the community,” Clark said. “If there’s really that much of a need for medical marijuana then they’ve been underreporting their sales.”

However, Clark expressed more concern over the mistreatment of medical marijuana by individuals than by dispensaries.

“A good deal of marijuana trafficking occurs under the guise of medical marijuana,” he said. “I’m not saying that’s because of the dispensaries.”

All concerns regarding medical marijuana could change if an initiative to make cannabis legal and taxable in California passes in November.

“I suspect that [legalizing cannabis] would really have an impact … because it would change the access to marijuana,” Lane said. “[But] it’s too soon to know for sure.”

Regardless of whether individuals or dispensaries deserve more of the blame, Clark says he is tired of the police being caught in the middle of what he feels is a social issue.

“Somebody on a legislative level needs to have the courage to step up on this. Either it’s legal or it’s not.”