Mayoral race frets backers of pot clinics

June 01, 2006

Matt O\'Brien, ANG Newspapers

Medical marijuana proponents consider the Hayward mayoral election one of the "crucial" political races in California this Tuesday, though both mayoral hopefuls beg to differ.

"It's crucial because it could determine the fate of the medical cannabis dispensaries," said Dale Gieringer, director of the Oakland-based Drug Policy Forum of California.

Rival candidates Brian Schott and Mike Sweeney are "diametrically opposed" on the issue, Gieringer said.

And since the city's two permitted pot clubs are approaching the end of their municipal operating agreements, Gieringer said the next mayor could have a significant say on whether they stay or go.

The mayor could indeed have a say, but neither Schott nor Sweeney considers the issue a top priority for himself or most voters. And the positions they are espousing appear to be not so different.

In interviews, both said they would thoroughly review each club before voting to renew any permits. Schott, however, is explicitly opposed to the idea of having pot clubs in the city.

"I don't know why they have to be at these clandestine locations. It just leads to problems," Schott said. "They'd have to do a very good job of convincing me they should get their use permit renewed."

Schott alienated medical pot proponents at a campaign forum several weeks ago when he said, "This will probably cost me some votes, but I don't think Hayward should be in the medical marijuana business."

Sweeney, in contrast, said the city should follow state law, make sure there is no expansion in the number of dispensaries and regulate the existing two facilities carefully.

But when it comes to specifics, both men are promising a fairly hard-line approach. Sweeney said he would take a "real hard" look at the two dispensaries when their three-year agreements with the city expire on Dec. 31.

Both clubs, the Hayward Patients Resources Center and the Local Patients' Collaborative, are located on the same downtown stretch of Foothill Boulevard. Club owners did not return calls for comment Thursday.

Gieringer said his organization's views on the Hayward candidates are based on what local dispensary workers and patients gathered from watchingcandidates debate one another at forums. Although the activist group does not make formal endorsements, it offers advice on local elections on its Web site.

The commentary paints Sweeney as reasoned and Schott as hostile to the group's cause. Both candidates said they were not contacted by the group. The other elections described as "crucial" are in Oakland and San Diego County.

In fact, it may be that neither Schott nor Sweeney will have enough political heft, if elected, to engineer any major changes to the city's current policy.

The mayor's vote is equal to the vote of any of the six members of the Hayward City Council, and so far those council members have been almost unanimous on decisions allowing the two pot clubs to operate.

Five candidates are contesting two open seats on the council, but only one of them, Hank Quintel, has said he opposes pot clubs downtown.

"I see no purpose for these marijuana clubs," Quintel said at a forum.

The Drug Policy Forum believes incumbent Councilman Kevin Dowling and challenger Gary Steinberger are "most strongly supportive of medical marijuana." Dowling is a past recipient of campaign contributions from pot clubs and has said at a forum that both facilities are "well run." The other two candidates, Robert Lopez and incumbent Councilman Matt Jimenez, are considered by the group to be in a more vague, middle ground.

But many of the group's views are inaccurate. The same Web site states that Assembly candidate Mary Hayashi of Castro Valley is a registered nurse and strongly supportive of medical marijuana.

Hayashi is not a registered nurse. It states that her challenger, Alameda County Fire Chief Bill McCammon of Pleasanton, "who is supported by police, is opposed" to medical marijuana. Both Hayashi and McCammon have received endorsements from law enforcement individuals and organizations, as have Dowling, Lopez, Jimenez, Schott and Sweeney.

It states that "medical marijuana advocates have lacked a working majority on the Board of Supervisors due to lack of support from incumbent Supervisor (Gail) Steele." In fact, county supervisors spent two years developing a plan that resulted this year in the approval of three medical marijuana clinic permits in unincorporated areas. Steele joined other board members in developing and approving the plan.

The site states that Steele's challenger, Union City Councilman Richard Valle, "has been a consistent supporter of medical cannabis dispensaries in Union City." There are no dispensaries in Union City, though Valle has consistently served as the minority vote trying to approve them.

If officials in Hayward someday adopt Union City's no-dispensary model, as some advocates fear, it would take a majority of elected officials, not just a new mayor and two council members.

"The council has to decide," said Hayward City Manager Jesus Armas. "Absent any action, (the agreements) expire."

Armas said there have been some problems involving the clinics, including robberies at one of them.

Frustration with the glut of tattoo parlors downtown, and the social problems critics have associated with them, caused the council to deny a permit to a proposed new parlor late last year. If similar frustrations arise at the end of this year, officials predict it could influence how the council votes on renewing pot club permits.

 

Staff writer Karen Holzmeister contributed to this report.

 

 

Matt O'Brien can be reached at (510) 293-2473 or mattobrien@dailyreviewonline.com.



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