Pleasanton looks to join medical pot needs survey

August 09, 2007

Meera Pal, Contra Costa Times (CA)

PLEASANTON -- Tasked with determining the community's need for medical marijuana, and whether that need is being met, the Pleasanton Human Services Commission has asked city staff to approach Alameda County about being part of a blind survey of medical marijuana ID card holders.

After meeting for the first time last week, commission members also asked city staff to form a task force with medical marijuana users, health care providers and city officials from Pleasanton, Dublin and Livermore to address the issue in a regional manner.

"I think it warrants further study," said commissioner Laura Olson. "I think there is some sort of need and we would be remiss in not taking a look at it."

The health services commission heard public testimony this past week that both supported and opposed a medical marijuana dispensary in town.

Even though the Pleasanton City Council in early June adopted a ban on operating marijuana dispensaries in the city, a majority of the council asked that the commission discuss community need for the drug.

Dublin adopted a ban on dispensaries last year, while Livermore's moratorium on dispensaries will expire this fall.

Given medical privacy laws, city officials know the county will not give out personal information on medical marijuana ID holders. But Pleasanton hopes the county will agree to send a letter to or call those card holders in Dublin, Livermore and Pleasanton, asking them to participate in a need-assessment survey.

If the county does not agree to participate in a blind survey, the commission has also asked city staff to hire a consultant who can oversee a phone or mail survey for Pleasanton, with or without Dublin and Livermore being included.

The commission expects to meet several times on the issue before it makes a recommendation to the City Council.

Commission members acknowledge quantifying the community need for medical marijuana will be a tough task.

Assistant Pleasanton City Attorney Larissa Seto noted that given the difficulty of getting actual numbers of medical marijuana users, the commission will need to be open to anecdotal information.

At its Aug. 1 meeting, the commission agreed to listen to a presentation by a group representing Oakland-resident Todd Rogers, who runs Alternative Medical Services and attempted to open a dispensary in Stockton before that city also adopted a ban.

Kat Eisenman, who works in patient services and the front desk at a medical marijuana dispensary in Hayward, told the commission she conducted a rough, informal survey of patients and determined that about one-third are coming from the Tri-Valley and Central Valley.

"They come from all walks of life and all ages," she said. "These people are a true representation of our community."

Of the 4,515 patients Eisenman spoke with, she noted that 56 were from Pleasanton, 42 were from Dublin, 39 of San Ramon and 73 from Livermore.

Livermore resident George Wilson spoke to the commission as someone with a medical marijuana ID card. He cautioned members about trying to compile full and complete numbers.

"For every one of these cards, there are 25 people who have a doctor's recommendation and are afraid of the card, and of that 25, there are probably 100 more who are afraid of registering with a doctor," Wilson said. "Whatever number you come up with, that is just the decimate of what it actually is."

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

California voters approved Proposition 215 in 1996, which legalized medical marijuana for seriously ill patients. Federal law, however, prohibits any use or sale of marijuana.

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

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




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