Alameda takes first step to putting pot club in hospital

May 08, 2005

Bay City News Service, San Francisco Chronicle

OAKLAND -- An Alameda County Board of Supervisors committee today approved a marijuana dispensary ordinance which includes a proposal to have medical marijuana at a county-owned hospital.

The proposal is now scheduled to go before the full Board of Supervisors on May 24 for final approval.

If the proposal is approved, Alameda County would be the first county in the state to have a dispensary for medical cannabis at a county-owned hospital.

At today's Transportation and Planning Committee meeting, which was attended by about 50 people, Alameda County Sheriff Charles Plummer, the county's top law enforcement officer, said he thinks Supervisor Nate Miley's proposal to set up a marijuana dispensary at Fairmont Hospital in San Leandro "is brilliant."

Plummer said, "We have a chance in this county to be a model" for other jurisdictions in how to dispense medical marijuana in a safe and orderly fashion. Having the county run a dispensary "would take the profit out of it," he said.

However, Miley said it would be at least six months before the county is ready to set up a dispensary at Fairmont hospital campus.

Currently, seven medical marijuana dispensaries operate in the unincorporated parts of Alameda County, mainly in unincorporated Hayward and San Leandro.

Dispensaries that operate in cities throughout the county, such as Oakland, Berkeley and Hayward, wouldn't be affected by the ordinance.

If the proposed ordinance is approved May 24, it would only allow between three and five dispensaries to operate, thus forcing at least two of the dispensaries now in business to shut down.

If a Fairmont dispensary is approved down the line, it would be the only dispensary allowed in the unincorporated parts of the county.

A major obstacle to having a dispensary at Fairmont is the ongoing conflict between state laws approving medical marijuana and federal laws that prohibit any possession, use or sale of the drug.

Supervisor Scott Haggerty, who serves with Miley on the committee, said he would vote to approve a dispensary at Fairmont only if federal officials indemnified Alameda County from any criminal or civil liability.

"I would never put county employees in a position where they could be incarcerated," Haggerty said.

Haggerty also said he only wants the county to allow two or three dispensaries, not the five recommended by Miley.

Miley said he thinks having a dispensary at Fairmont "is the right thing to do" and he would push for it even without federal approval as long as a majority of supervisors endorsed the idea.

Plummer said the county needs to "proceed as rapidly as we can" to approve some sort of ordinance regulating medical marijuana dispensaries.

He has set a June 17 deadline for an ordinance to be finalized. If the county misses his deadline, Plummer said he will cite federal law and order his deputies to shut down the seven dispensaries now doing business in unincorporated Alameda County.

Plummer said, "I'm not opposed to medical marijuana, but we need to do this right."

Referring to his long career in law enforcement, Plummer said, "I've abided by the law for 53 years and I won't stop now."

Speakers at today's meeting were divided over the proposed ordinance.

Some people praised it, stating that dispensaries need to be more closely regulated, but some people opposed it, saying the county shouldn't limit the number of dispensaries.

Sparky Rose, the executive director of Compassionate Caregivers, which operates a dispensary in unincorporated San Leandro, said, "Our primary concern is the selection process" by which the county would choose which dispensaries could operate.

Kris Hermes, legal director of Americans for Safe Access, said he's opposed to the proposed cap on the number of distributors, the proposed ban on on-site consumption of medical marijuana and to having the sheriff's department run the permit process.

Hermes said county health officials should be the ones to issue permits because he believes medical marijuana is a public health matter, not a law enforcement matter.

But Angelo Madrigal, the director of student services at the San Lorenzo School District, which is located near one of the dispensaries, said the clubs should be more tightly regulated because activity there is "counterproductive to the message we're giving to students to stay away from drugs and marijuana."

Poppy Richie, a mother and teacher from San Leandro, said the dispensaries are allowing healthy young people, including her son, to obtain cards that allow them to use medical marijuana.

"Marijuana is a gateway drug for kids and I'm concerned about its effect on young people," she said.



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