Medical marijuana clubs near Redwood City shut down

December 11, 2009

Shaun Bishop, San Mateo Daily News

Medical marijuana clubs have been getting a major buzzkill from new regulations in San Mateo County. Two cannabis cooperatives in unincorporated North Fair Oaks near Redwood City apparently closed after county officials denied their applications for licenses under an ordinance regulating pot clubs that the Board of Supervisors approved in April.

In its first decisions on pot club licenses, the county's licensing board ruled Nov. 2 that Blue Heaven and the Universal Healthcare Cooperative violated a requirement that collectives be located at least 1,000 feet away from any school, recreation center or youth center. Other provisions of the law require cooperatives to have an alarm system and bars on windows, and prohibit them from employing felons.

Universal Healthcare Cooperative appealed its denial, arguing against the method of measuring the 1,000 feet as the crow flies, licensing board Chairman Jim Eggemeyer said. But the board — made up of one staff member each from the planning department, sheriff's office and health department — upheld the ruling Nov. 30 with a 2-1 vote.

Two other license applications were denied Nov. 2, both for applicants that had not yet opened cooperatives.

It's not yet clear whether the Universal Healthcare Cooperative will appeal again to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, but for now it appears the owners have moved out.

No one was at its former location at 171 5th Ave. when a reporter visited twice recently. The club's phone line is disconnected, and nearby merchants said the club's founders quietly left sometime last month.

About two blocks away, a sign on the door at Blue Heaven's former location at 3149 Middlefield Road reads: "Sorry we missed you! We are no longer open in Redwood City."

Now, Blue Heaven Coastside in Moss Beach appears to be the only outlet on the Peninsula for legal cannabis. The county is still processing an application from that club and two other applications to open clubs at locations near Belmont and in North Fair Oaks, sheriff's spokesman Tom Merson said.

The increased regulation of medical cannabis on the Peninsula comes as the Obama administration has signaled the federal government will stop raiding medical marijuana clubs that comply with state laws. Medical marijuana was legalized in 1996 in California by when state residents approved Proposition 215.

Kris Hermes, a spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, an Oakland-based medical marijuana advocacy group, said the county should develop a map to show where the facilities can locate without violating the 1,000-foot rule.

"If it completely cuts off access because of onerous requirements in the ordinance, then clearly it's not a good way to proceed, and the (county) has to go back and review its ordinance," Hermes said.

Supervisor Carole Groom said she stands by the 1,000-foot restriction, though she is open to re-examining the ordinance at some point.

"I think it's up to the providers to follow the ordinance," she said.

Cities are also taking up the issue, with Los Altos passing moratorium on pot clubs last week and Redwood City set to consider a similar action Monday.

Redwood City City Attorney Stan Yamamoto said a temporary ban will give the city a chance to debate how to regulate the cooperatives.

"The public has a right to come in to speak to the issue," Yamamoto said.

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