Pleasanton takes lid off medical pot issue

July 31, 2007

Meera Pal, Contra Costa Times

Dressed in a suit and tie, Pleasanton resident Kirk Warren is the last person one would point to as a medical marijuana user.

Warren, an executive for a Fortune 500 company, recently went public when he attended a Pleasanton City Council meeting to put a face to the medical marijuana issue.

"I felt a responsibility in my own local community, to at least be there and listen," Warren said recently during an interview from his Pleasanton backyard. "It's been brewing, and it was about time for me to come out of the closet."

Warren, a loving husband and devoted father of two, was first prescribed medical marijuana nine years ago for a condition that he did not want to discuss publicly.

"It alleviates the symptoms of my condition," he said. "And, with this medicine, the condition rarely happens now."

Worried about what his children would think of him, Warren used to go behind his home and take his medicine using a battery-operated vaporizer.

Now, Warren isn't as concerned about what other people think.

"For the first time in my life, I'm standing up," he said. "Since I've grown up white, upper class, college degrees, two graduate degrees, all I've done in my life is fit in."

At the City Council meeting in June, Warren displayed his Alameda County-issued medical marijuana ID card and urged the council not to ban marijuana dispensaries from operating within city limits.

However, at that meeting, the council voted to ban marijuana dispensaries in Pleasanton. But a majority of the council also agreed to send the issue to the city's Human Services Commission to determine the community's needs for medical marijuana and whether they are being met. Several council members voiced concern with openly defying federal law, which prohibits any use or sale of marijuana.

"This has been an eye-opening experience for me," Warren said a few weeks ago. "There are large segments of our population who can condone inappropriate legislation and actually go to the extent of incarcerating people."

Warren, who first became involved with medical marijuana as an advocate for the passage of Proposition 215, which legalized medical marijuana for seriously ill patients in 1996, said there should be a dispensary somewhere in the Tri-Valley. If the manufacture and sale of medical marijuana were controlled like those of alcohol, patients would benefit, he said.

He plans to share his thoughts at the Human Services Commission meeting tomorrow night, at which they plan to discuss the community need for medical marijuana.

In a staff report to the commission, Assistant City Attorney Larissa Seto and Community Services Manager Eileen Hofstadt have noted that actually determining Pleasanton residents' need for medical marijuana is difficult. There is the voluntary nature of the county's identification card program, they said, as well as the medical privacy issues, which prohibit local clinics and health centers from releasing patient names.

County officials have said the distribution of cards is proportional to population. Using that information, Seto and Hofstadt determined that of the 1,349 medical marijuana ID cards issued through May 2007, about 61 were given to Pleasanton residents.

The commission will also consider a recommendation by city staff to coordinate with Alameda County to conduct a survey, by either mail or phone, of medical marijuana card holders. Staff is also suggesting Pleasanton team with Dublin and Livermore to do a random and confidential telephone survey.

Seto and Hofstadt are also recommending that Oakland resident Todd Rogers be allowed to present anecdotal information from Oakland-based medical marijuana dispensary operators about patient and caregiver clients from Pleasanton. Rogers, has previously expressed interest in opening a dispensary in Pleasanton and had planned to open one in Stockton, before that city also adopted a ban.

Other Bay Area cities with bans on dispensaries include Concord, Dublin, Pleasanton Hill, Antioch, Oakley, Pinole, San Pablo and Hercules.

The Pleasanton Human Services Commission will meet 7 p.m. tonight at the City Council Chambers, 200 Old Bernal Ave.

Contact Meera Pal at (925) 847-2120 or mpal2@cctimes.com.



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