Pot clubs' permit process extended

October 11, 2005

Karen Holzmeister, The Argus

You won't see him in line anytime soon, but Alameda County Sheriff Charles Plummer has a doctor's letter stating on-the-job stress should qualify him to buy marijuana for medical needs.

As a joke, Plummer's physician wrote the note, which the sheriff showed to members of the district attorney's office. They agreed the letter would be Plummer's ticket to getting a card that would open doors at any of the six cannabis dispensaries in unincorporated areas.

However, after touring all the clinics, Plummer said he can't see himself queuing up alongside patients who appear to be "unsavory people" and "young men under 30 who look like people you would arrest a lot."

Despite the sheriff's skepticism, county supervisors Tuesday expanded the time frame for three of those dispensaries to apply for permits that will allow only three clinics to operate in areas encompassing Ashland, Castro Valley, Cherryland and San Lorenzo.

Since Plummer doesn't back marijuana for medicinal uses, much less as a recreational drug, he made it clear his department — as the lead agency to review and issue the permits — will closely monitor permit holders and people who patronize what he described as "legalized dope shops."

The sheriff said his first and last taste of a marijuana cigarette occurred more than 50 years ago, as part of rookie police training in Berkeley.

The supervisors' vote represents the latest action in a year of attempting to balance the needs of people who want to purchase medical marijuana and those of the greater unincorporated community, where many residents want the clinics eliminated.

Mayhem, robberies, burglaries and a murder have occurred at the dispensaries during the last six months.

Despite Tuesday's vote — the second in five months to establish the permit process — the controversy over clinics is not likely to be resolved quickly.

Clinics began to proliferate in unincorporated areas about two years ago, after Oakland closed down some of its dispensaries. In an effort to regulate these businesses, supervisors in June decided only three cannabis clubs would be allowed to operate in unincorporated areas.

One club has closed in recent months. Three clubs are in Ashland, two in Cherryland and one in San Lorenzo.

Only three of six existing clubs submitted permit applications by the late-August deadline.

Supervisors, noting they hadn't actually approved the permit application distributed by the Sheriff's Department, revised the form and extended the deadline for the three other clubs that — for a variety of reasons — didn't submit applications by the deadline.

The revised medical marijuana ordinance adopted by supervisors Tuesday will be effective about Nov. 9, and clubs that haven't yet turned in applications will have 10 days from that date to do so.

Permits will be given out in each of three areas. The first area includes San Lorenzo and a narrow strip of Cherryland running east along Interstate 238. The second area includes portions of Ashland west of Interstate 580 and the southernmost areas of Cherryland. The third area includes Ashland south of I-580 and Castro Valley.

Undersheriff Mike Peterson said the permits will be given to the applicant in each area that best meets the criteria established by county agencies. If more than one applicant qualifies, there will be a lottery. Cannabis clubs that don't apply for permits, or that lose out in the permit process, will be given orders to close.

However, the county expects legal challenges by medical marijuana businesses that don't choose to apply or don't agree with the outcome of the permit process.

Peterson said burglaries last weekend at two of the medical marijuana clinics won't be held against the operators during the permit review.

"They were victims," he noted. "There were security measures taken, but the criminals just defeated them."

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