Hayward Rejects Pot Clubs 

A city that prides itself on being progressive has decided to buck a statewide trend and say no to medical marijuana dispensaries.

The City of Hayward has long considered itself one of the more progressive cities in the East Bay. City leaders were particularly proud of the fact that voters elected one of the first openly gay councilmembers in the Bay Area more than a decade ago. But in recent weeks, Hayward has decided to take a law-and-order stance against one the most visible progressive movements in California and block the opening of any medical marijuana facilities within city limits.

The council's decision came after intense lobbying from the city's powerful police officers' union. Councilman Bill Quirk, a pot club proponent, said pressure from the union was the deciding factor against allowing dispensaries to open. "I don't know who got them to come out," he said. "It is what killed it."

Police union president Mike Sorensen agreed that speaking out against city policy was unusual for the union, but he said officers wanted to give the council more information. He said that a return of the city's two pot clubs that previously did business on Foothill Boulevard in the downtown area would "jeopardize the safety of local businesses, visitors, and the community at large."

Hayward Police Chief Ron Ace also said that additional policing required when the dispensaries reopened would take resources away from other parts of the city. "If you want me to look into medical marijuana dispensaries, you tell me what you want me not to do," he told the council.

But pot club supporters say concerns about dispensaries attracting crime are wrong. "There is a certain old-school element with fears about this that are the typical fears," said Dale Gieringer, one of the co-authors of the landmark law that legalized medical marijuana in California. "But I think they are projecting their experience with the illegal marijuana market to the legal marijuana market."

But the influence of police was too strong. Hayward councilmembers wouldn't even agree to put pot clubs on their yearly list of priorities. The decision was not close. Quirk couldn't muster support to put it to a vote.

Among the staunchest opponents was the gay councilman, Kevin Dowling, who is running for the Alameda County Board of Supervisors this June. He argued that Hayward is far different from liberal enclaves like the Netherlands, because there are more firearms here than in Europe. Not long after the council's decision, the Hayward police union announced its endorsement of Dowling. Sorenson said in a press release: "Alameda County residents can count on Kevin to help keep our communities safe."

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