Alameda County supervisors put breaks on pot club decision

May 24, 2005

Guy Ashley, San Jose Mercury News

Alameda County supervisors today delayed passing a law to license medical marijuana dispensaries, despite threats by the county sheriff that he will move to shut down seven pot distribution points in the county if a law is not passed by mid-June.

The Board of Supervisors postponed any action on a proposed dispensary law until at least June 7. That means the county will be bumping right up against a June 17 deadline set by Sheriff Charles Plummer because the law must survive two readings by the board before it takes effect.

County Supervisor Nate Miley said he will ask Plummer to extend the 60-day deadline he set in mid-April to ease the time crunch.

Miley said his colleagues needed more time to develop provisions of the proposed law, including the criteria that will be used to decide which operations are chosen to receive a county license.

Currently, Alameda County is one of about 35 local jurisdictions in California that have passed temporary moratoriums on new dispensaries while they work on local ordinances to regulate the operations.

Alameda County first passed its moratorium last October -- and has since extended it twice -- after six clubs moved into the unincorporated Ashland and Cherryland areas last year in the wake of new Oakland laws that reduced the number of dispensaries in the city from 12 to four.

Local governments around the state are scrambling to adopt regulations to oversee the distribution of marijuana to people who are entitled to it under state Proposition 215, which made marijuana legal to grow and possess for medical needs.

Today's decision to hold off on a county dispensary law disappointed many who attended an exhausting, four-hour hearing in which critics chided county supervisors for moving to cap the number of dispensaries in the unincorporated areas they govern.

While a draft of the law suggests only five dispensaries be allowed, two supervisors today moved to lower the number to three.

Kris Hermes, legal support coordinator for Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group, said the limits being discussed are arbitrary, and not based on any examination of patient need. He said the limits would worsen loitering and other problems that have been associated with the seven dispensaries now operating in unincorporated areas between Hayward, San Leandro and Castro Valley.

'There are lines outside the dispensary facilities that create problems,' Hermes said. 'You're inviting that type of problem by arbitrarily capping the number of dispensaries.'

Other critics said the proposal would force the shut down of three dispensaries doing business on East 14th Street near San Leandro, because all three are within 1,000 feet of a nearby middle school. The proposed law sets a 1,000-foot buffer zone around all schools.

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