Pot clubs in Ashland must wait for answers

December 01, 2005

Karen Holzmeister, Oakland Tribune

People for and against medical marijuana clinics in unincorporated areas were looking for answers Thursday.

But an appeals panel, which spent an hour listening to testimony about two Ashland cannabis clubs that were denied operating permits, did not have any.

The four-member panel of Alameda County administrators listened impassively to emotional and occasionally tearful speakers before sheriff's Capt. William Eskridge, who served as the meeting's chairman, said written decisions would be delivered in 10 days.

Those judgments, whether pro or con, are likely to spur further appeals to county supervisors about where pot shops can operate in communities such as Ashland, Castro Valley, Cherryland and San Lorenzo.

The Health Center and The Alameda County Resource Center were front and center Thursday. Both were denied permits initially because they were too close to schools and, in the case of the resource center, an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting hall.

Tony Dowden said he comes to Ashland from Santa Clara for marijuana to relieve pain from osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

The Alameda County Resource Center, one of the clinics seeking permits, "is like home," and a place where "there's nothing to be afraid of."

Dowden and John Bain of Fremont, who has Crohn's disease, said resource center operators provide them with marijuana, even when they do not have money, to avoid trips to the hospital.

But San Lorenzan Peter Hagberg and Nancy Van Huffel, the San Lorenzo Village Homes Association administrator, urged the panel to adhere to the ordinance, which prohibits medical marijuana clinics within 1,000 feet of a school and other facilities.

Hagberg said he sees too many men in their 20s and 30s at the clinics who do not look like they need marijuana for medical reasons. They are, he claimed, "very healthy, not sick" and don't look like they care for people who are ill.

Six clinics are now open in Ashland and Cherryland, but their numbers will be reduced to three under a county ordinance adopted by supervisors earlier this year. The three dispensaries must be in separate, specifically defined geographic areas and receive county permits.

Jack Norton, who operates The Health Center, and Paul Baerwald, who described himself as the "proprietor" of the Alameda County Resource Center, both asked for time to find new locations.

Since their applications were rejected only on the basis of location, those documents should be approved if an appropriate site is found, they added.

"I have been personally looking and working with several Realtors in order to find an ideal location," Norton told the panel. "The Health Center is one of the only dispensaries in the area which has not been subject to an armed robbery or violent crime."

One Cherryland dispensary has tentative approval, and applications submitted by three other dispensaries in Cherryland and Ashland are still being reviewed.

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