Pot issue goes on Village Homes ballot

November 24, 2007

Rachel Cohen, The Daily Review (CA)

SAN LORENZO — Along with two names on the ballot for one open seat on the San Lorenzo Village Homes Association board will be a question about whether residents want the board to approach the county about how medical marijuana dispensaries are being operated.

"We in San Lorenzo would like to know from our members if they feel the county should continue to operate them in their current form," said Homes Association President Wulf Bieschke. "A lot of residents feel the wool has been pulled over their heads."

Ballots will be mailed the first week of December with the newsletter and assessments, and are due back Jan. 31. The newsletter also will include arguments about whether to support medical marijuana in the county's unincorporated areas. Bob Swanson, chief of staff for Fourth District Supervisor Nate Miley, wrote the pro statement, and Bieschke wrote the con argument.

The Homes Association board decided to add the marijuana dispensary ballot question after the recent Oct. 30 federal raid on a Mission Boulevard dispensary.

In the raid, agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Internal Revenue Service invaded the Compassionate Collective of Alameda County, at 21222 Mission Blvd. near Blossom Way. The business, which has now been shut down, was in Cherryland, an unincorporated part of the county that borders San Lorenzo to the east.

State law — under voter-passed Proposition 215 — and federal law conflict on medical  marijuana possession, which has led to a series of raids throughout the Bay Area in the past year. State law makes medical marijuana legal for people with prescriptions and limits how much of the drug may be on site at the dispensaries, while federal law prohibits all marijuana possession.

Bieschke added that state law also does not have clear guidelines on distribution.

Federal investigations found that the Compassionate Collective of Alameda County, in its fourth year of operation, had generated $26.3 million in sales in the first half of 2007, through June. The dispen-sary's owners were indicted for conspiracy to distribute more than 100 kilograms of marijuana, maintaining drug-involved premises, conspiracy to launder money and money laundering, according to the Department of Justice.

"If we had $54 million (roughly the total amount the dispensary has generated) in sales tax, that would really help our community, but we're not seeing that," Bieschke said at the meeting.

He explained that when medical marijuana began being dispensed in county areas, residents were sold on the idea because they were told the county health department would regulate the dispensaries. However, this has not happened, he added.

"If it's really compassionate distribution, then let's sell it at county hospitals," Bieschke said. "They're in the red. Fifty-four million dollars in sales would pay for a lot of that red ink."

Bieschke also argued that the cities of San Leandro and Hayward have blocked marijuana dispensaries, though there are still two left in the unincorporated areas — one of which is on Lewelling Boulevard near Mission Boulevard. Area dispensaries for been blamed for attracting crime and detracting from other retail businesses.

"I have no problem with the use of medical marijuana for any type of ailment," Bieschke said. "It's just the way it is being dispensed, and why are the dispensaries in the unincorporated area only?"

San Lorenzo resident Keith Barros asked, "Who is driving this?" in regard to the marijuana dispensaries in the unincorporated county area, and he said that Compassionate Collective dispensary was one of Miley's largest campaign contributors.

The Alameda County Registrar of Voters Office shows that Miley received $5,000 in contributions from Compassionate Collective of Alameda in May.

In 2004, Bieschke filed a lawsuit about marijuana distribution because he felt the county Board of Supervisors was bucking federal law. A judge ruled against the suit and it ended because of the cost of an appeal.

Staff from the office of 3rd District Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker, who represents San Lorenzo, responded with the statement, "Supervisor Lai-Bitker appreciates information on how unincorporated residents feel about issues. On the medical marijuana issue, the Board of Supervisors will need to weigh the needs of medical marijuana patients against the concerns about how the pot clubs are being run."

Staff writer Jason Sweeney contributed to this report.



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