Michelle Meyers, Daily Review,
The City Council on Tuesday night created an ad hoc committee on medicinal marijuana dispensaries that could put Hayward's slogan to the test. "Hayward calls itself 'The Heart of the Bay' mostly because of its geography," said Councilman Kevin Dowling. "But it also means that we are a compassionate place. We don't want to ask people who are sick to go out and buy marijuana on the street.
" After hours of testimony from 24 medical marijuana proponents, the council voted 5 to 2 in favor of establishing the committee, with councilmen Joe Hilson and Matt Jimenez in dissent. The five to seven member committee will include representatives from interested parties such as the police, medical marijuana patients, and business and faith communities. Its mission is to gather information and come up with ways to sanction the city's three existing dispensaries, now operating against Hayward's zoning code. "It will let us talk about compassion without lawbreaking," said Mayor Roberta Cooper. Compassion was a common theme for speakers, who thanked the council for showing enough compassion to explore the issue and also pleaded for its help. "All three clubs have a valuable purpose," said Paul Baerwald, a cancer survivor and former student of Cooper's. "Find compassion in your hearts to keep them open." The dispensaries aren't new. But their profile was raised last month after a story in The Daily Review about a proposed new dispensary. The city turned down the proposed new owner and notified the existing dispensary owners that they are in violation of the city's zoning law. That led one of the dispensary owners to ask the council to consider authorizing their existence. No one spoke Tuesday against the dispensaries, although the Hayward Chamber of Commerce had submitted a letter in opposition. Instead, speakers ranged from prominent Oakland experts and activists to everyday Hayward residents. Don Duncan, who represents an alliance of four Berkeley dispensaries, was one of several people to tell the council how the issue has been tackled successfully in other jurisdictions. The Berkeley dispensaries, for example, worked with the community to come up with a set of safety and operational protocols for their facilities, he said. Mike Alclay, medical director for the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative, described some of the science behind cannabis, which he described as "the most benign, innocuous medication on the planet." Xeno Rasmusson, an assistant professor in human development at Cal State Hayward, also testified to the benefits of cannabis, which he said helped his father retain his vision with glaucoma. Don Konecny, of Oakland, told the council that people still will need their medicine, even if Hayward doesn't sanction the dispensaries. "If you fail to govern it, it doesn't make the issue go away," he said. "It will just go unregulated." That runs counter to the efforts of Jeff Jones, executive director of the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative, which issues cards for patients with verified doctor's recommendations. "We're trying to keep patients out of the criminal justice system," he said. "We want you to be involved in what we're doing." Stephanie Rubasky, a Hayward hair stylist, said patients have been left in a gray area since the passage of Proposition 215, which legalized marijuana for medicinal uses in California even though it's considered illegal under federal law. "We, the people of Hayward, need you to help," she said. Bob Swanson of Castro Valley, who works for Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley, told the council a story of a man he and his wife cared for who was dying of brain cancer and was down to just 90 pounds. The Swansons decided to give their friend marijuana, and he gained 40 pounds in two weeks. "It not only made him eat, it made his days of waiting to die much more bearable," Swanson said. Jimenez and Hilson, who opposed forming the ad hoc committee, said they did so because they don't think it is Hayward's place to get between state and federal law. "It should be taken care of in the halls of Congress and the state Legislature," Hilson said. Jimenez added that if the dispensaries are allowed to stay, he wants them to charge sales tax. Councilman Olden Henson, who said he conducted his own crash course in medical marijuana this past week, emphasized that the committee should have no predetermined outcome. Henson added that he's not afraid of challenging a federal law. "I don't see federal law as unshakable. Some of it is atrocious," he said. "You wonder what they've been smoking. Certainly not medical marijuana." Jane Weirick, a Hayward resident and president of the California-based Medical Cannabis Association, said her fellow proponents were impressed by the council's willingness to listen. "We were encouraged that they were so open-minded about the issue," she said. "We've only scratched the surface. Now the real learning begins."