Medical pot plan taps into hospital

May 11, 2005

Michelle Maitre, The Argus

Supervisor Nate Miley wants officials to consider opening a medical marijuana dispensary at the county-owned Fairmont Hospital — a revolutionary idea that puts a twist in long-standing efforts to craft an ordinance governing dispensaries in unincorporated areas.

Miley said the idea would add legitimacy to efforts to dispense cannabis for medicinal use and would address community concerns about dispensaries in their neighborhoods.

'I think it's the right thing to do,' Miley said. 'If we're saying it's medicine, let's put it in a medical setting.

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Miley said community members first approached him about setting up the dispensary at Fairmont Hospital in San Leandro, one of the hospitals that makes up the Alameda County Medical Center.

For nearly two years, county officials have been working to draft an ordinance that would regulate the number and location of medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated areas of Cherryland, Ashland, Fairview and Castro Valley.

That ordinance moved closer to completion Monday, with the board's two-member Planning and Transportation Committee signing off on a draft plan that, pending some changes, will be forwarded to the full Board of Supervisors for a final vote, possibly May 24.

The ordinance allows for a maximum of five clinics in unincorporated areas, down from the current seven. Clinics would be licensed by the county through a process that includes a background check and a review by the sheriff's office, the county Health Department and the Community Development Agency, among other regulations.

No two clinics could be within 1,000 feet   of each other, and each clinic would have to be at least 1,000 feet from schools, parks and playgrounds. Clinics near schools would have to close for an hour while school is let out, as well as during lunch hours if students are allowed to leave campus.

Miley added a last-minute addition to the ordinance requiring officials to research piloting a county-run dispensary at Fairmont Hospital. Miley said the dispensary could be run by county officials or by a private contractor operating with the county's blessing.

If the Fairmont idea ultimately bears fruit, the county could revoke the licenses of the other clinics, Miley said.

Alameda County would apparently be a first in the nation to run its own clinic, and officials said they need more details on the legality of county-as-cannabis purveyor.

Supervisor Scott Haggerty, who sits on the Transportation and Planning Committee with Miley, said he wants to make sure the county has legislative approval to run such a clinic before the idea proceeds. Haggerty said he didn't want to put county employees at legal risk.

The Fairmont clinic idea received a mixed reception from attendees at Monday's committee meeting. Several people who opposed the dispensaries in their neighborhoods supported the plan, saying a county hospital is the most fitting location. And Sheriff Charles Plummer, who has been frustrated by the county's slow movement toward drafting an ordinance, has endorsed the idea.

But others, such as patients who rely on marijuana to manage chronic illnesses, favor licensed, responsible clinics closer to home.

'Fairmont   seems to have quite a bit of problems up there already,' said Stephanie Rodrigues of San Leandro, a bone cancer patient who uses medical marijuana.

Other speakers wanted the county to draft a tougher ordinance. Business owners and residents complained of problems near current clinics, including loitering, littering, public urination and rude patients.

'The clinics, I believe, are contributing to the destruction of young people,' said Poppy Richie of San Lorenzo, who said her healthy, 19-year-old son was able to obtain an identification card given to those who use medical marijuana. 'It's too easy for young people to obtain the cards,' said Richie, who wants supervisors to ban the dispensaries.

But Sparky Wilson Rose, executive director of Compassionate Caregivers   — which runs a clinic in San Leandro — called the proposed ordinance a 'responsible compromise' that balances the county's needs with the rights of reputable medical marijuana clinics.

Rose urged the county to give preference to the most responsible clinic owners in granting licenses that will be handed out under the proposed ordinance.



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