Council paving way for pot clubs

February 22, 2007

Justin Hill, Contra Costa Times

A man who runs a medical marijuana dispensary in Oakland said this week he is still interested in opening one in Albany after the City Council gave initial approval to an ordinance allowing such an establishment.

The City Council unanimously approved several regulations for a medical marijuana dispensary, including restricting its use to patients who live in Alameda County.

"I think it's a good ordinance, but I believe that it should be open to any card-carrying patient," said Keith Stephenson, who runs the Purple Heart Patient Clinic.

He had expressed interest in opening a facility in Albany after more than 54 percent of voters approved an advisory measure in November indicating their support for an ordinance that would allow a single dispensary.

The proposed ordinance would allow the sale of the marijuana in the form of an edible product and the sale of equipment to take the medicine. On-site consumption would not be allowed, though that may be reconsidered in the future.

The ordinance would allow one dispensary to operate in the city at any given time. It could not be within 1,000 feet of youth-oriented establishments, but city staff will craft language that allows specific circumstances for such establishments to be within that proximity.

The law also would forbid a dispensary from being within 1,000 feet of any schools, child care centers, public libraries or community centers.

The proposal still needs final approval to become law.

The city currently has a moratorium that restricts the establishment of a dispensary. The City Council is expected to take up the final approval of the ordinance at its next meeting, March 5. The ordinance would go into effect 30 days from its final passage.

Albany Planning Manager Jeff Bond said the proposal is "a good balance."

The ordinance, he said, "gives us the chance to provide the services to the community but make sure we're getting a good operation."

"I think we'll get some interest," Bond said.

At Tuesday's council meeting, resident Don Ford cited examples of troubles at dispensaries in the Bay Area, including drug dealing.

"I'm strongly, strongly against this," Ford said.

But Mayor Robert Lieber said the ordinance is the right thing to do.

"To me, it's about doing the compassionate thing for people in need," Lieber said.

Reach Justin Hill at 510-243-3578 or jhill@cctimes.com.



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