LIVINGSTON — Mike Sperry Jr. is the man with the pot plan.
The 38-year-old owner of Mike's Cozy Corner bar stepped out of the shadows Wednesday as the person who approached Livingston wanting to open a medical marijuana dispensary in town.
He never hid his plans, but they weren't widely known. Nor was his name included in staff reports on the subject. He came forward now, however, to explain his idea and to ask the community for support.
Sperry's inquiry to the city in December about the requirements for running a medical marijuana dispensary prompted staff to place an item on tonight's council agenda creating at 45-day moratorium on opening such a business in town.
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The moratorium is needed for city staff to review and update the city's existing dispensary ordinance, said City Manager Richard Warne.
Sperry said he's not trying to stir up trouble. He's just a respectable businessman, he added, well-known in the community, who sees a need for a service. He said he's consulted lawyers and California medical marijuana supporters, and has researched the business thoroughly.
"There are enough guidelines out there that you have to run these things right or you will be shut down," Sperry said.
When he approached Livingston to examine the exact requirements, city staff realized there was a large loophole in the city's ordinance.
Livingston Community Development Director Donna Kenney explained that the city's ordinance governing marijuana dispensaries was adopted with a general zoning update in 2005.
But one of the ordinance's provisions for running a dispensary is that the owner must comply with all regulations adopted by the police chief.
Among the regulations are ones covering the exact record-keeping required, how customers must be identified and recorded, whether or not there could be on-site cultivation, and the maximum amount of marijuana that could be dispensed.
Former Police Chief Bill Eldridge, however, never created those regulations. Police Lt. Sharon Silva was filling in as interim chief when Sperry approached the city. Silva decided the issue should wait for new Police Chief Douglas Dunford to take office. He started Monday.
Municipal ordinances prohibiting medical marijuana dispensaries are common in the San Joaquin Valley despite the state law that permits them. Stanislaus County authorities have argued that the dispensaries are fronts for illegal growers, and that they attract crime.
Modesto and Stanislaus County are among the local governments that bar them from opening.
Requesting delay to make his case
Sperry said that throughout the process, he's been waiting patiently, and at tonight's council meeting he's prepared to ask for more time to make his case. The moratorium sits on the same agenda as what's probably going to be a contentious discussion over the city's long-debated water rates.
He wants the council to postpone the idea of a moratorium for two weeks so he can make a proper presentation to the council.
He wants the council and Livingston residents to know what he believes in. He doesn't own the property where the dispensary would be. He intends to lease it and says the property owner is aware of his plans. He declined to give the address, but noted it's in a zone the city has designated as appropriate for such businesses.
Sperry says he would have an armed guard at the front door. Security cameras would watch in and around the business. A business is exactly what it would be, he said.
"I want to stay out of jail. I don't want people harassing my customers. I don't want people that are not permitted or allowed by the great state of California in there," he said.
Sperry said he wants to keep small quantities of marijuana on site. He said he won't grow any marijuana and plans to use established suppliers. He would dispense small amounts of the drug in pill boxes — not baggies, not brown paper bags. There would be no brownies, no cookies.
"I think a lot of people get carried away with these dispensaries. They are selling pastries. I want to sell the stuff that you can go home and medicate yourself, and that's it. This is not a hobby. This is not a toy. It's a medicinal use," he said.
Sperry carries a medical use card but said he doesn't use it. He said he knows people who drive to Bakersfield or into the East Bay from Merced County to get medical marijuana. And he said he offers a way for Livingston to handle some of its revenue woes. He suggested the city add a tax to every purchase made.
Sperry plans to appear at tonight's council meeting, 7 p.m. 1416 C St., Livingston.