San Leandro City Council Moves Forward with MMJ Dispensary Zoning; Shasta, Berkeley and Santa Cruz Considering Ordinances

September 17, 2013 - After two hours of testimony and discussion, preceded by three years of back-and-forth, San Leandro city council voted last night 5-2 to direct staff to come up with zoning code amendments allowing two dispensaries in the city. The council didn't vote on the ordinance itself, despite staff asking (rather late) that they do so, but the ball is rolling.

Councilmember Ursula Reed, who's admittedly flip-flopped on the issue, went to see Harborside Health Center in Oakland that day and was "very impressed" with the security, the verification of doctors' notes, the database keeping track of patients' usage, and the holistic calendar of services. Reed said Harborside serves 2,956 patients from San Leandro, and calculated if each of them buys a $160 ounce each month, the tax benefit to San Leandro would be close to $500K yearly. "We're losing taxes to Oakland from San Leandro patients," Reed said.

Councilmember Paulene Cutter, a former school board member who also visited Harborside, said, "I want to make a decision based on facts and not fear." Vice Mayor Jim Prola noted that "study after study" shows crime decreases, not increases, when dispensaries open, and read the five reasons cops want to legalize from LEAP. Prola mentioned a recent story saying tech workers are big users of medical marijuana, and noted that San Leandro wants to attract tech workers. But mostly he said he was voting for it because "It's the right thing to do. You can't say you're for medical marijuana and be against dispensaries."

Mayor Stephen Cassidy voted for starting the zoning amendment process, but wanted to roll back the proposal to allow only a single dispensary. The decision was made to proceed with allowing two, noting that a change could be made later in the process.

The two dissenting councilmembers, Benny Lee and Diana Souza, suggested putting the question to the voters instead, along with a tax measure. David Johnson of the San Leandro Chamber of Commerce made the same suggestion, asking whether or not the city was equipped to answer the 8 points of the DOJ memo, and at what cost. Lee read the numbers of voluntary ID cards from the Dept. of Health, mistakenly correlating those figures with the number of bone fide medical marijuana patients in California.

Over 850 signatures were gathered on a petition against the ordinance, largely through efforts of San Leandro's Heritage Evangelical Foundation Church. Many residents however spoke in favor of the measure at the meeting, and challenged to the council to think about how they would feel if they, or a member of their family, needed medical marijuana.

Cynthia Chander, an 18-year San Leandro resident and homeowner, said she'd operated businesses in downtown Oakland and saw the area flourish after cannabis dispensaries opened. "One of the best ways to prevent crime is to build an economy," she noted. She cautioned that putting the measure on the ballot would preclude making changes later.

Sue Taylor from the Commission for Aging in Alameda county said, "This is health and wellness, not intoxication." Gregg Daly, a retired Monterey PD officer and army veteran, said he was put on "pharmaceutical heroin" for "the worst two and a half years of my life" after a car accident and has found relief with medical marijuana, which he called "the favorite medicine of retired police officers."

Brian Webster of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) urged the council to move ahead on the measure, which he said would bring jobs and revenue to San Leandro. The inevitability of coming full legalization and recent Department of Justice signals towards acceptance were also mentioned. Ellen Komp, CalNORML deputy director, said the state was getting closer to a regulation bill as well.

The meeting began with protests against a proposal to fly the Chinese flag over San Leandro city hall for a day. Despite protests from the Tibetan community, the council voted 4-3 to fly the flag. A debate on a long-discussed ordinance establishing regulations to maintain chickens and bees in San Leandro saw the police chief brought up to explain what an "inspection warrant" was, winning assurances she would seek actual warrants.

Hear audio file of the meeting.

At its 7PM meeting tonight, Berkeley city council will consider two different medical marijuana proposals, one raising the number of allowed dispensaries from four to six. Read more.

This morning Shasta county is hearing public comments on an ordinance proposal that would possibly ban outdoor cultivation. See live tweeting from the meeting. Southern Shasta County's supervisor, Les Baugh, sent around a nasty email regarding the meeting.

On Sept. 24, Santa Cruz will consider a new medical marijuana cultivation ordinance, erasing a three-pound per patient allowance and removing patient confidentiality provisions in the ID card system. Especially troubling is an added requirement of proving that landowners agree to gardens (leaving them open to federal property forfeiture proceedings.)

"The proposed garden sizes won't provide enough for patients, and capping the number of dispensaries based on when they opened will force closures and the numbers never got high because the zoning rules worked," said CalNORML legal committee attorney Ben Rice. "Why not use a system similar to the county's patient state id program that protects anonymity yet confirms dispensaries are lawful and growers responsible and lawful?"

UPDATE 9/18: No action was taken in Shasta other than a directive to look further at the ordinance. Read more. Berkeley similarly sent their proposal back to the Medical Cannabis Commission and staff, likely to return in early 2014.

Also on September 17, Murietta voted to keep its ban on dispensaries, and also ban "mobile dispensaries" (delivery services). Murietta follows a trend of other cities who have left patients with no recourse but to travel out of their city or grow their own, including Atascadero, Arroyo Grande, Riverside and Anaheim Police in Garden Grove have begun issuing fines of $1,000 a day to medical marijuana delivery businesses.