SAN LEANDRO -- The city is closer than ever to welcoming its first medical marijuana dispensary to town following City Council action Monday night.
Council members voted 5-2, with council members Diana Souza and Benny Lee opposed, to proceed with a draft city ordinance and zoning code changes that would allow up to two regulated medical marijuana dispensaries in the city's industrial and commercial zoning districts. Zoning code changes will now go to the city's Board of Zoning Adjustments and Planning Commission before the rules return to the council for final approval as early as November.
Currently, city residents seeking medical marijuana must go to an Oakland dispensary or find a shop in a nearby unincorporated area, governed by the county.
Monday's action came nearly a year after the city's latest moratorium on dispensaries expired. The city council issued a yearlong moratorium on dispensaries in 2010, and again in 2011, a prohibition that expired Sept. 30, 2012.
Last July, the council directed staff to draft an ordinance allowing the shops after an appellate court in Los Angeles County ruled cities could not ban them. But the California Supreme Court in May ruled in a Riverside case that cities and counties may pass outright bans, opening the door for San Leandro to allow or ban them.
Thirty-five public speakers weighed in on the prospect of a dispensary in San Leandro before the vote. Proponents argued allowing the shops would take pot off the streets and reduce crime. Opponents argued only a ban would achieve that.
Alan Fong, pastor of Heritage Baptist Church, urged the city to ban the shops, as did resident Fred Simon, a husband and father of two.
"Medical dispensaries with their large sums of cash, as well as their large sums of marijuana, will be a magnet for additional crime in our community. It will also be a negative influence on our children," Simon said.
But local school board member Diana Prola, wife of Councilman Jim Prola, said, "Teenagers have access to marijuana right now if they want it. However, if it's regulated, they aren't going to get it from the medical clinics." She also said she saw medical marijuana provide some comfort and pain relief to a close friend dying from cancer in her final weeks.
New parents Sara Ubelhart and Dan Grace, who own Dark Heart Nursery which grows cannabis in Oakland, support local shops.
"It is not only the compassionate thing to do but the smart thing to do. Regulation brings light into the shadows and marijuana is not dangerous, but a black market is dangerous," Ubelhart said. "Denial of access to medicine is shameful."
Retired policeman and Army veteran Gregg Daly said medical marijuana provides much needed relief for him and other retired public safety and military servicemen. Daly took prescription drugs after he was run over and nearly killed in 2004.
"It was the worst two and a half years of my life," Daly said. "You sentence us to take synthetic heroin over marijuana and you sentence us to addiction, suicide and fatal overdoses. ... We have been on Vicodin too long. We have been on Perkasets too long."
City Attorney Richard Pio Roda said if finalized, the city would use some sort of competitive proposal process "to find the best operators, best, safest and most compliant operators in the business."
As currently written, the ordinance would allow a maximum of two dispensaries, but Councilwoman Pauline Cutter and Mayor Stephen Cassidy said they would rather see only one dispensary. The matter will come back to the council.
David Johnson, president of the San Leandro Chamber of Commerce, suggested the city put the issue to a vote, and at the same time ask for voters to approve a sales tax on the shops, a suggestion Lee and Souza supported.
No formal votes were cast to place the shops or a shop tax on the ballot.
Ashly McGlone covers San Leandro, San Lorenzo, San Ramon and the Washington Township Health Care District. Contact her at 510-293-2463. Follow her at Twitter.com/AshlyReports.