Official backs marijuana outlet

April 14, 2007

Meera Pal, Contra Costa Time

Pleasanton Councilman Matt Sullivan would like to make a medical marijuana dispensary work in the Tri-Valley.

Sullivan convinced the City Council at its April 3 meeting to postpone a decision on whether to enact a ban on dispensaries. Since then, he has been doing research into how they affect the communities that have them.

"The last time we looked at this, the staff presented all the horror stories and the bad experiences," he said. "But I felt like there was maybe another side of the story, where it has been successful."

Sullivan will present the findings of his research and ask other council members to consider supporting a dispensary at the City Council meeting on Tuesday.

"I would like to see if there is a way to make this available to people in need in the Tri-Valley, in other ways than them having to go to Oakland and Hayward," he said.

Police Chief Michael Fraser and City Attorney Michael Roush are urging the council to adopt a ban, several months before the existing moratorium is due to expire.

In their staff report, Fraser and Roush wrote about armed robberies, burglaries, and vagrancy in other communities with marijuana dispensaries. They also pointed to cases of dispensary patients or others selling marijuana to people who aren't legally entitled to use it.

If the council adopts the ordinance, it would not prohibit those qualified under state law from privately using medical marijuana.

Sullivan said he looked at reports from Americans for Safe Access, a group that promotes safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use. He learned about communities, such as Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz that have successful dispensaries.

"There is a lot of good information in there about other cities who have good experiences with dispensaries that have strong regulations," he said. "I think our community has more in common with Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz, which have had good experiences, and not Oakland."

Sullivan said Pleasanton should look at partnering with neighboring communities or the county to run a pilot program.

"This is a public health issue," he said. "If everybody just banned it, people in need are not going to get the help they need. "And the people of the state of California said they wanted this to be made available."

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 its drug laws, including a prohibition on marijuana.

Since then, about 20 cities, including Concord, Dublin, Pleasant Hill, Antioch, Oakley, Pinole, Livermore, San Pablo and Hercules, have banned dispensaries. Other cities have moratoriums in place while they consider their next step.

Oakland, Berkeley, Hayward, Martinez, Santa Rosa, San Jose, Santa Cruz, San Francisco and Alameda Counties are among those that have adopted regulations that allow dispensaries to operate.

Pleasanton extended its moratorium last summer so the council could collect more information on the issue. Members sought details about Alameda County's identification card program and the dispensaries already operating in the county, whether all communities with dispensaries had crime problems, and whether Pleasanton's needs for medical marijuana were being met.

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



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