Tri-Valley cities study ban on pot dispensaries

August 14, 2005

Matt Carter, Oakland Tribune

Medical marijuana advocates are opposed to plans by cities in the Tri-Valley to adopt temporary moratoriums preventing "pot clubs" from setting up shop.

When they meet Tuesday, the Dublin and Pleasanton city councils will consider 45-day urgency moratoriums prohibiting medical marijuana dispensaries.

Livermore and Danville are considering taking similar steps.

Local police departments are advising cities in the Tri-Valley to act in concert in adopting rules governing the establishment of pot clubs. If some cities in the region adopt moratoriums and others don't, those without restrictions in place will be more likely to attract medical marijuana dispensaries, they say.

Manteca, Fremont, San Leandro, Union City, San Pablo and Emeryville already have adopted moratoriums, which are intended to give city officials more time to either draft ordinances banning pot clubs altogether, or establish rules governing their operation.

"Do the math," said Livermore Police Chief Steve Krull. "If all the areas around you have moratoriums, and you're the only ones who don't have some sort of guidelines, where are (pot club operators) going to go? We're looking at what the community standard is going to be."

But medical marijuana advocates say some cities are using the moratoriums — which can be extended for up to 22 months — to avoid adopting rules and regulations that would allow dispensaries to operate legally and responsibly.

Under Proposition 215, The Compassionate Use Act of 1996, California residents can seek a doctor's approval to use marijuana to treat illnesses. Medical marijuana advocates say the so-called "pot clubs" that have sprung up since then in cities such as Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles are necessary because marijuana is not available through pharmacies.

Kris Hermes, legal campaign director for Americans for Safe Access, said at least 17 cities and counties have established clear regulations governing the operation of medical marijuana dispensaries.

At the same time, "There are a good number of cities and counties around the state who do not want to make a decision under any circumstances, and are using the moratorium to avoid" adopting regulations governing pot clubs, Hermes said.

The question, Hermes said, is how to establish regulations that "put patients at the forefront," while addressing community concerns that pot clubs attract crime and make marijuana more accessible to teenagers and other recreational users.

Krull said law enforcement agencies in the Tri-Valley share those concerns, which include "abuse of the dispensary, where marijuana is given to someone (legally), and they turn it around, and it's out on the street within minutes ... or some of the associated crimes that occurs at other facilities."

Last month, for example, a medical marijuana dispensary in downtown Oakland was robbed by three gunmen, who took five pounds of marijuana with a street value of more than

$10,000, police said.

Hermes said concerns about crime can be addressed through permit conditions. In the past, Pleasanton has required night clubs that draw large crowds to hire security guards.

"I have yet to see the level of crime that's been touted by cities in the last few months as an excuse to not condone dispensaries at all," Hermes said. "There are over 40 dispensaries in the city of San Francisco, and 120 across the state, and there are ... a very rare number of cases of crime around those establishments."

Hermes said there are already measures in place to ensure that only patients with conditions like glaucoma, cancer, arthritis and migraine headaches receive a doctor's recommendation to use marijuana, Hermes said.

But Pleasanton officials, including City Attorney Michael Roush and Police Chief Tim Neal, are urging the council to adopt an urgency ordinance imposing a 45-day moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries.

In their report to the City Council, Pleasanton officials cited a recent U.S. Supreme Court Decision upholding federal laws that ban the possession and use of the drug. Although Congress could pass a bill prohibiting the enforcement of federal laws in states that have decriminalized medical marijuana, "it is clear that these issues remain unsettled and that there will be further cases and laws related to medical marijuana."

Although Valley cities can extend their moratoriums for up to 22 months, they will then have to decide whether to ban pot clubs or draft rules governing their operation.

Hermes said Americans for Safe Access is mounting a legal challenge of Fresno's ban on medical marijuana dispensaries, and "plans to repeat that in a number of other cities to make the point that it's not acceptable."

Americans for Safe Access field coordinator Rebecca Saltzman sent e-mails to members of the group's list server Friday urging them to attend Tuesday's Pleasanton City Council meeting.

"It's one thing to establish a moratorium when there are already dispensaries where patients can go," Hermes said.

In cities without dispensaries such as Livermore, Pleasanton, Dublin, and Danville "you are taking punitive action against patients while the city takes its time to arrive at regulations."

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