Recount ahead for pot measure

December 09, 2004

Kristin Bender, Oakland Tribune

BERKELEY -- Leaders of a failed November ballot measure that would have given medical marijuana patients potentially unlimited access to the drug have asked the Alameda County Registrar of Voters for a ballot recount.

Measure R would have replaced Berkeley's 10-plant limit with a patient's 'personal needs,' defined by a doctor and the patient. It also would have relaxed zoning laws for dispensaries and set up a peer review committee to oversee operations at the city's three dispensaries.

The measure lost by 191 votes, according to official results from the registrar.

The results show 25,167 people voted against the measure, while 24,976 Berkeley residents cast ballots in favor of the initiative.

Proponents say the results are too close for comfort.

'We experienced several inconsistencies with the count process that didn't make us feel very good,' said recount spokeswoman Dege Coutee, who ran the Yes on R campaign. 'We see a recount as a way to check the system and make sure it's working appropriately.'

Coutee claimed the registrar never had a 'clear grasp' on how many absentee and provisional ballots were left to be counted or how long the process would take.

'On any given day, depending on which election official I spoke to, or which (campaign) volunteer I spoke to, I got different stories of what was going on,' said Coutee, adding that county officials have been supportive of a recount.

One day after the Nov. 2 election, Measure R was down by 866 votes, but after three weeks of counting provisional ballots, the measure was losing by 202 votes. The final vote count put the measure behind by 191 votes, results show.

County Registrar Bradley Clark was on vacation Thursday and not available for comment. Elaine Ginnold, the assistant registrar of voters, was in Sacramento for a meeting and also not available for comment, registrar officials said.

While there is support for Measure R, there are those who were pleased to see the initiative defeated.

'I was overjoyed that it did not pass,' said Davida Coady, an addiction specialist and the executive director of Options Recovery Services in Berkeley. 'There is so much cannabis abuse in this city. Kids come from all of the neighboring cities because (they) can buy it so readily.'

A recount -- which will cost proponents about $3,000 for the first day and roughly $2,000 for each subsequent day -- could take two to three weeks, Coutee said.

Coutee said Measure R backers are recruiting volunteers to observe the recount and launching an aggressive fund-raising drive to cover costs. She declined to say where the money will likely come from.

'Let's just say that there are state and national groups that are interested in making sure the electronic vote works,' she said.

Coutee and other proponents said Berkeley's current medical cannabis law is outdated and not in compliance with state medical marijuana laws and federal and state court rulings. They claim patients must violate the law to get access to medical marijuana.

But so far, city leaders haven't been willing to relax the laws. The City Council in April tabled Councilmember Kriss Worthington's proposal to increase the number of medical cannabis plants from 10 to 72 following concerns about increased crime and questions about how much dry marijuana one plant produces.

Worthington said Thursday that he supports a recount.

'Any time you win or lose by such a close margin, you always want to make sure (the votes) have been counted right,' he said.

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