Six organizations competing for three cannabis permits

November 27, 2005

Guy Ashley, Contra Costa Times

Six medical marijuana clubs are competing for three permits to sell cannabis in unincorporated parts of Alameda County.

Six months ago, Alameda County supervisors passed a law limiting the number of dispensaries and establishing a selection process. The six clubs all applied for permits before the Wednesday deadline.

Meanwhile, two of the clubs are contesting Sheriff Charles Plummer's orders to close because they are too close to a school and a drug recovery facility.

One of those club owners, Jack Norton of the Health Center, said he will fight the shutdown while moving his operation to either San Lorenzo or Castro Valley because the competition for a permit isn't as stiff in those areas.

Under the law approved in June, only one dispensary will be allowed to operate in each of the three zones created within the county's unincorporated area: Ashland, San Lorenzo and Castro Valley.

"This process has more twists than a snake," said Capt. Dale Amaral of the Alameda County Sheriff's Office, the lead agency in reviewing marijuana club applications.

The Health Center and another club two blocks away, the Alameda County Resource Center, will challenge the shutdown orders before a county appeals panel Thursday.

The county says the Health Center is located within 1,000 feet of Edendale Middle School and therefore must cease operations. Norton, however, said his measurements put the club just outside 1,000 feet from the school.

The Alameda County Resource Center was ordered to close because it is next door to an Alcoholics Anonymous fellowship hall. The new law prohibits dispensaries within 1,000 feet of drug recovery facilities.

"This is not a drug recovery center, it's a fellowship hall," said Robert Raich, an attorney representing the Resource Center. "It's no different from the Moose Lodge or any club set up for social or fraternal purposes."

Even if the two clubs are granted their appeals, their futures remain murky.

Both the Health Center and the Resource Center sit within the Ashland district, as does the Compassionate Collective of Alameda County, a dispensary that earlier this month became the first club to pass muster in an initial county review of applications.

If more than one club from a particular district passes the initial review, the county will hold a random drawing to determine which business is granted a permit to stay in operation. Clubs not granted permits will be ordered to shut down.

A fourth club in the Ashland area, the Garden of Eden, submitted its application at 4:25 p.m. Wednesday, five minutes before the county's final application deadline.

Meanwhile, two remaining clubs seem to have a leg up on the competition, as long as they pass muster in initial reviews by the sheriff, and health and community development departments.

That's because the clubs -- A Natural Source near Castro Valley and We Are Hemp in San Lorenzo -- are the only dispensaries currently doing business within their districts.

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