Starting a business can be a bureaucratic nightmare. Not for Stephen Boski. His application sailed through City Hall.
That is, until Modesto realized Boski's license was for a medical marijuana delivery service.
Thirty minutes after Boski walked out of the Planning Department with a business license, he said, the city called to say it had made a mistake and would have to revoke the permit. He returned to City Hall and got a $112 refund.
Since then he's been waiting for answers from the city attorney's office about why he can't open a nonprofit delivery service for medical marijuana users. Such services are allowed under state law, Boski said.
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Modesto banned medical marijuana dispensaries in 2006. But Boski contends the city's municipal code says delivery services are allowed if they follow state law. Such services exist in San Jose and Sacramento, Boski said.
"The city's ordinances are very, very vague," he said. "It's like, 'Yes, you can do it,' but, 'No, we're not going to let you.' But no one's telling me why."
He's been waiting five weeks for an answer from the city attorney's office. City Attorney Susana Alcala Wood said Boski will receive a written response soon.
Boski has pressed the issue because he wants Modesto to reconsider its stance on medical marijuana. "I want to set an example and be the model to show the city of Modesto that this can be done safely," he said.
His quest comes as California is poised to vote in November on a ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana. Meanwhile, federal officials relaxed their position on medical marijuana earlier this year, announcing that prosecuting medical marijuana users no longer is a priority. Federal law doesn't allow medical marijuana use, but 14 states, including California, do.
Many Stanislaus County cities have banned dispensaries that sell medical marijuana. Cities say the dispensaries become fronts for criminal activity.
That's what happened in Modesto in 2006. Federal agents busted a medical marijuana club on McHenry Avenue after a 15-month investigation revealed the club was selling pot to customers with no medical problems.
The two men who ran the club each were sentenced to more than 20 years in prison after prosecutors argued they were essentially drug dealers, raking in $6 million to $9 million in less than two years of operation.
Boski, 38, says the busted club was a bad apple that gave legitimate establishments a bad name.
Deborah Pottle, a medical marijuana patient in Oakdale, said Stanislaus County needs a delivery service. Pottle, a retired correctional officer, said she uses medical marijuana to treat chronic pain resulting from spinal surgery.
She's allergic to traditional pain medications. Driving long distances is difficult for her, so a friend who's also a medical marijuana patient drives to San Francisco to pick up their supply.
"We need something in the Central Valley," Pottle said.
Boski uses medical marijuana to treat back pain from a work injury because he doesn't like how pain pills fog his mind. He said his mother has used medical marijuana to treat the side effects of chemotherapy.
Boski was laid off from his job as a private security alarm technician last year. Now he's got plenty of time on his hands to research medical marijuana laws. His take is that the industry needs more regulation, not less.
He's against the ballot measure to legalize recreational pot use, but he thinks Modesto could take a cue from one of the arguments in favor of the ballot measure: Supporters claim legalizing and taxing marijuana could generate $1.4 billion in revenue for the state.
The same logic applies locally, he said. His delivery service would generate sales tax for cash-strapped Modesto, he said.
In Oakland, where Boski buys medical marijuana, he pays a $50 tax when he buys an ounce for $300. The city was the first in the country to put a special tax on medical marijuana sales.
"I won't be the last one to bring this up to Modesto," Boski said. "I know Modesto is a conservative town, but like anything, times change, people change. The city could benefit from this."