Alameda County puts new pot clubs on hold

October 26, 2004

Karen Holzmeister, Oakland Tribune

OAKLAND -- Alameda County supervisors Tuesday temporarily banned new cannabis clubs in unincorporated areas until strict regulations can be developed governing their locations and operations.

The five supervisors unanimously adopted the 45-day ban, through Dec. 10, which can be extended if necessary.

However, County Counsel Richard Winnie said an ordinance, covering land use and health and safety regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated areas, could be ready for supervisors' review by late November.

All seven drop-in centers, where people with doctor-issued cards can buy marijuana, are in the Ashland and Cherryland portions of Supervisor Nate Miley's District 4.

Although endorsing the ban, Supervisor Scott Haggerty of Livermore described efforts by his colleagues to outlaw alcohol sales in unincorporated areas while simultaneously clearing the way for marijuana clinics as 'schizophrenic.'

If marijuana is medication for people who are ill, 'why not put it in pharmacies where I get my medication for diabetes?' Haggerty asked.

'There are people who are not happy with marijuana dispensaries,' Miley, of Oakland, said before the vote. 'Prop. 215 is the law in this state. I support it. Cannabis is effective medicine for some people, and I support that.'

Proposition 215 is a 1996 voter-approved measure that allows people with doctors' orders to use marijuana for medical purposes.

The number of existing dispensaries which can remain open for business also jumped from six last week to seven on Tuesday.

Miley said the Garden of Eden dispensary opened last weekend on Foothill Boulevard in Cherryland, less than a block from the city of Hayward.

These marijuana dispensaries, most in discreetly-posted houses or storefronts with only street numbers for identification, won't be exempt from review once an ordinance is adopted. Miley said existing businesses and new applicants will face the same scrutiny if they want to continue or begin selling medical marijuana.

Operators of two of the seven dispensaries were pleasant, but wary, when informed of the supervisors' action. No one at Compassionate Caregivers or the Alameda County Resource Center, both on East 14th Street in Ashland, would speak on the record Tuesday afternoon.

People displaying their medical marijuana cards, as a condition of entry to both places, also wouldn't comment as they entered and exited the premises.

Operators of adjoining businesses also declined to discuss the dispensaries, most of which moved in during the last few months after local cities began more strictly regulating such establishments.

The Garden of Eden had a sign on the door, but no furniture was visible in the former art-and-frame shop and no one answered knocks on the door.

Haggerty was the lone supervisorial vote opposing the issuance of medical marijuana cards earlier this year. Issuing those cards, without having regulations in place to govern dispensaries, 'was putting the cart before the horse,' he said.

Miley said various county agencies have worked on a dispensary ordinance for more than a year. However, discussions were put on the back burner when other issues -- such as last spring's successful campaign to raise sales taxes for county medical services -- took priority, he explained.

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