Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Oakland Cannabis Dispensaries To Double by Spring, But Snags Await

By David Downs
Tue, Jan 10, 2012 at 9:43 AM

Bay Area medical cannabis patients may be just three months away from having twice the number of dispensaries in Oakland. Public hearings for ten groups seeking one of four new dispensary permits are scheduled to wrap up this week. A final decision on the four could come within fifteen days. Oakland has four existing facilities.

Twelve groups submitted business plans for a new dispensary in the fall, and city employees scored each plan, ranking them according to their site, capitalization, and community benefits. A representative of each group took a written test in December, and officials handed out bonus points for environmental efforts and local hiring promises. Going into hearings January hearings, the top four scoring groups were:

G8 Medical Alliance board member Leo Bazile answers questions at public hearings Wednesday Jan. 4
  • David Downs
  • G8 Medical Alliance board member Leo Bazile answers questions at public hearings Wednesday Jan. 4

1) Oakland Community Collective, 2) Tidewater Patients Group, 3) G8 Medical Alliance, and 4) Agramed.

Read about those groups here.

Former Oakland City Council member Leo Bazile, speaking for G8 Medical Alliance Wednesday, said, if permitted, the dispensary at 70 Hegenberger Loop could be distributing cannabis by April.

Assistant City Administrator Arturo Sanchez told applicants at the public hearings that placing in the top four does not guarantee a permit, but it does influence the recommendations he will make to the city administrator by Janaury 23. Public comment is also a serious factor, he said. At the hearings, the public questioned individual group members' ongoing lawsuits, connections to city hall, and some clubs' proximity to sensitive uses like churches and schools.

Marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Sanchez noted during hearings last week that the US attorney for the Northern District of California, Melinda Haag, “could come in here and arrest me right now.” Applicants also run the risk of forfeiting dispensary real estate without a jury trial, under federal drug trafficking statutes.

Since October, Haag has closed seven licensed Bay Area dispensaries operating within 1,000 feet of a school or park. G8 Medical Alliance is 597 feet from a small charter school, according to public hearings. Others may be as well.

In other potential snags, Oakland might have to stop the permitting process this winter, depending on whether the California Supreme Court allows a recent California appellate court decision to stand, or decides to review it. The appellate court ruling, Pack v. Long Beach, implies that regulating clubs like Oakland does - with permits and fees - is preempted by federal drug laws. If the Pack decision stands, Oakland might have to spend anywhere from three weeks to four months rewriting its ordinances to avoid preemption.

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