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Council okays pot club ban
May 10, 2010, 12:02 am

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries from setting up shop in Alameda.

“Conceptually, it’s something everybody thinks should be done,” Councilman Frank Matarrese said of providing marijuana for medical use. “But nobody wants it next door.”

Planning Services Manager Andrew Thomas took great pains to say that staff’s recommendation to ban the clubs was a land use decision and was not based on moral or political considerations or personal opinions on whether medical marijuana is good or bad. And he said the city has more important issues to deal with, and limited staff and time to deal with them.

“This is a very new issue for cities in California. The laws that underpin this land use are under constant change,” Thomas said. “This is not necessarily an issue the City of Alameda wants to get in front of.”

The Planning Board said in January they would not support a ban, and they wanted city staff to work on rules for permitting dispensaries under limited circumstances. But Thomas said he didn’t think the rules could be put together before the city’s time limit for imposing a moratorium on the clubs expires, in November. He said the city should have rules on the books, and that those rules could be changed at a later date.

And he said that no one had contacted the planning department to support having the dispensaries in town. No one spoke in favor of the dispensaries at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Police Chief Walt Tibbet said he supported the ban, saying the clubs are not permitted by state or federal law and that anecdotally, they have been linked to an increase in a variety of crimes.

And Robb Ratto, executive director of the Park Street Business Association, said his board voted in favor of the ban.

“We don’t think this kind of business is appropriate for Park Street, Webster Street, or any street in this town,” Ratto said.

More than three-quarters of the 86 voters in The Island’s informal poll said they opposed placing a ban on the dispensaries.

City Councilwoman Lena Tam said she thinks Alameda Hospital would be the ideal place to dispense medical marijuana, but the hospital would lose a substantial amount of federal money if it were to do so because marijuana is illegal under federal law.

Mayor Beverly Johnson, who called the dispensary operations “legalized drug dealing,” said she thinks they are a far cry from the co-ops she believes were intended when California voters opted to legalize marijuana for medicinal use.

City officials began looking at enacting an ordinance to regulate the dispensaries in 2008 after a dispensary called the Purple Elephant quietly set up shop on Webster Street and other would-be operators called the city to find out how they could set up clubs in Alameda. The Purple Elephant has since closed.

Proponents had said the club or another like it would provide a safe place to get medicine that helps them cope with a variety of grim ailments, and also an opportunity for the city to collect badly needed tax revenue. But opponents said the clubs would be a magnet for crime.

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