Hayward City Council secretly snuffs pot club

August 02, 2007

Rachel Cohen, ANG Newspapers

More than a dozen patients from the Hayward Patients Resources Center pleaded with council members at the meeting to keep the city's last medical marijuana dispensary open.

But their pleas Tuesday were moot because the speakers missed the vote a week before. The issue never made it to the public agenda before council members decided in a closed session July 24 not to extend the agreement with the dispensary at 22500 Foothill Blvd., effectively shutting it down.

A flier from Resource Center, located near B Street, said the club would have to close by the end of August. City Attorney Michael O'Toole did not return calls Thursday to verify a date.

"The real debate was before the end of last year, when there was a public discussion and debate," said Councilmember Barbara Halliday. "We have followed through on what the agreement was at that time."

That agreement allowed the dispensary one 90-day extension to operate, and then a second 90-day period, which expired at the end of June. The extensions were designed to allow the resource center to find an alternative location to operate, away from the downtown area, where the city has been waging a development campaign to attract more business.

Tom Lemos, the owner of the downtown Hayward Patients Resource Center, presented at least two options to the council, which were turned down because of their locations. Responding to a request from The Daily Review, an Oakland Tribune sister paper, Lemos wrote, "Our official position is not to comment on any news story about our facility."

Many of the Hayward Patients Resource Center supporters who spoke up during the public comment period at this week's meeting were from nearby cities such as Fremont and Newark, which have all basically banned medical marijuana dispensaries. Halliday suggested that these supporters address their own city councils if they care about the issue. Locally, only Oakland, San Francisco and Berkeley currently have medical marijuana dispensaries.

Halliday added, "We're not as big as those cities, and we're struggling to revitalize our downtown. And this stuff, unfortunately, does not fit in with most people's concepts of a thriving commercial retail district."

An agenda report from April said the city did not formally authorize the dispensary operations because of "the conflict between federal and state laws on the issue."

The feds should take their heads out of the sand and make marijuana a Class 2 drug that people do research on," said Councilmember Bill Quirk. "When you make something illegal, like in Prohibition, people just feel like they have to use it."

He added that research on marijuana has shown it to be useful as an anti-inflammatory and has suggested it as a treatment for dementia.

Councilmember Kevin Dowling noted the large amount of public interest from residents both favoring and opposing the dispensary.

"Personally, I don't think it should be decided in closed session," he said, adding that he did not vote for the item and would not bring it up for an agenda until there was more support among councilmembers.

Dowling said the resource center showed the council a list of 3,000 people with medical marijuana cards in Castro Valley and Hayward.

He added, "I have a hard time believing there's that many terminally ill patients."

Mayor Mike Sweeney said the council had received many inquiries from downtown residents and merchants who felt the dispensary was not an appropriate use in the downtown and that it was causing problems, such as attracting crime. Sweeney added that although the matter was decided six months ago, the closed session was to deal with legal matters. The city attorney announced later in public session that the city will bring procedures to close the current location, but did not elaborate.

According to public records at City Hall, Lemos has been operating the business from the B and Foothill location since May 2001.

when he took out a license to operate "Phat Chix" as a retail business. The "Hayward Patients Resource Center" started in December 2003 as a consultant business. Both licenses are paid for through the end of the year.

Halliday said, "I think we owe it to everybody to try to explain what we're doing. It's a very difficult issue. We really have given them a chance. Unfortunately, they were unable to find a location."

Contact Rachel Cohen at (510) 293-2463 or rcohen@angnewspapers.com.



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