Officials seek to ban medical marijuana outlets

April 01, 2007

Meera Pal, Contra Costa Times

Months before a moratorium is due to expire, Pleasanton's police chief and city attorney are proposing an outright ban on medical marijuana dispensaries in town.

Citing incidents of armed robberies, burglaries, vagrancy and resale to nonqualified persons in other communities with marijuana dispensaries, Police Chief Michael Fraser and City Attorney Michael Roush will recommend Tuesday that the City Council adopt an ordinance making it illegal to operate a dispensary in the city.

The ordinance, however, would not prohibit those qualified under state law from privately using medical marijuana.

The statute would also exclude patients at state-licensed facilities, such as health care, hospice and residential care for the elderly, from partaking as long as the facilities operate under city zoning guidelines.

Voters approved the Compassionate Use Act in 1996, making medical marijuana legal for patients with a doctor's recommendation. SB420 established guidelines for distribution, as well as an identification card program.

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the federal government's power to enforce federal drug laws.

The federal-state conflict led Pleasanton and dozens of other cities to enact moratoriums on the establishment of marijuana dispensaries. Since then, about 20 cities, including Concord, Dublin, Pleasant Hill, Antioch, Oakley, Pinole, Livermore, San Pablo and Hercules, have banned dispensaries.

When Pleasanton extended its moratorium last summer, the council asked for information on whether the community's needs for medical marijuana were being met, about Alameda County's identification card program and dispensaries operating in the county, and whether any communities with dispensaries did not have criminal problems.

According to the city staff, the only local organization prescribing medical marijuana is Tri-City Health Center in Fremont. The staff at the health center said some patients do not feel comfortable going to dispensaries in Hayward or Oakland, due to other unsavory customers and vagrants outside the establishments.

The staff report lists other communities with dispensaries, including Castro Valley, San Lorenzo, Berkeley, Pacheco, Santa Clara and San Francisco.

Of communities that allow dispensaries, officials from Berkeley and Arcata reported no significant increase in police calls in those areas, but added that there is a problem with medical marijuana resold to nonqualified persons, including minors.

Based on the information gathered, Fraser and Roush contend that medical marijuana dispensaries should not be allowed to operate in Pleasanton.

While there are no specific numbers on those in Pleasanton with Alameda County medical marijuana identification cards, the county staff noted "the distribution of people getting cards has been fairly proportional throughout the county based on overall population size."

Since Alameda County began issuing identification cards in August, there had been 1,186 cards issued by February. The cost of the cards increased from $50 to $103 on April 1.

Other Bay Area cities and counties that have adopted regulatory ordinances allowing dispensaries include Oakland, Berkeley, Hayward, Martinez, Santa Rosa, San Jose, Santa Cruz, San Francisco and Alameda County.

In November, Albany voters approved a measure that would allow a single dispensary in the city. El Cerrito is also considering allowing one dispensary to operate in a three-block area.

Meera Pal covers Pleasanton. Reach her at 925-847-2120 or mpal2@cctimes.com



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