Reversing stand, Bay Area community now embracing idea of opening pot clubs
ALAMEDA — It would have once been unimaginable to see a contingent of pot supporters marching across this old Navy town in the Mayor’s Fourth of July Parade.
But the residents who make up Alameda Island Cannabis Community said they were embraced by those standing along the route decked in red, white and blue, a shift in the public’s attitude about weed that may be soon reflected in city policy.
New rules governing marijuana in Alameda could be in place as early as this fall.
For Mayor Trish Spencer, a breast cancer survivor, dispensaries that provide medical marijuana cannot come soon enough.
“At this point, many of us either are or know people with serious health issues,” Spencer said. “Unfortunately, they are not able to purchase (marijuana) here in town. They have to go into Oakland or San Francisco or other cities to talk with someone and then be able to purchase.”
Spencer said she wants several dispensaries scattered across the Island.
Where the clubs might be allowed to open is expected to be part of the ordinance that city officials are now working on for the City Council to consider after it returns from its summer break.
Along with setting out rules for dispensaries, the possible regulations will likely address cultivating the plant and laboratories for testing its purity and potency, as well as other activities associated with the rapidly growing medical marijuana business.
“We are here to make sure that residents have a voice in this,” said Sharon Golden, the founder of Alameda Island Cannabis Community, the group that took part in the July 4 parade. “And we are especially here to make sure everyone has safe access to cannabis.”
The group wants any rules adopted regarding marijuana for Alameda to be just that — for Alameda.
Residents wishing to open a dispensary should get preference over others, the members say, and they want revenue from any pot-related businesses in Alameda funneled into a fund for community programs, such as the city’s animal shelter.
They also want anyone working in the marijuana industry to make at least $17 an hour, calling it a living wage.
“Our goal is to bring cannabis into Alameda in a way that represents the community,” group member Mark Hersman said. “We don’t want to disturb that ambience. We all love it.”
The group, which also supports recreational pot, boasts nearly 400 members on Facebook. Anyone wishing to join must be an Alameda resident, according to Golden and fellow page administrator Lilli Keinaenen.
Members meet at Cafe Muse inside the Mariner Square Athletic Club in the city’s West End.
Doretha McPhatter said she turned to marijuana on the advice of an orthopedic surgeon while recovering from a devastating car accident 40 years ago. Since then the 64-year-old has adopted a holistic approach for other ailments.
“It has been my sanity,” McPhatter said.
Another group, Alameda for Safe Cannabis Access, is also active. The mayor recently appeared in a video for the group.
Medical marijuana is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and critics of cannabis say its supporters often rely on anecdotal evidence to tout any benefits.
There are just two FDA-approved medications that contain cannabinoid chemicals in pill form, and so far researchers have not conducted enough large-scale clinical trials to show the benefits of marijuana outweigh its risks, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The Alameda City Council banned pot clubs in May 2010, nearly a year after it moved to close the Purple Elephant, a dispensary on Webster Street. City officials took the owner to court after they said he misled them by describing the club as “miscellaneous retail” on his business application.
The efforts to allow dispensaries and other pot-related businesses on the Island follows California voters approving the use of recreational marijuana in November. State officials are now busy drafting regulations for its production and sale, which are due at the beginning of next year.
City Manager Jill Keimach said Alameda residents will be surveyed as part of drafting a local ordinance.
“I want the broader public to weigh in on this,” Councilman Frank Matarrese said July 5, when the council authorized Keimach to begin work on the regulations.
Matarrese noted pot clubs do not use traditional banking because the industry remains illegal under federal law.
“Are taxes being paid?” he said. “Are employees paying into social security? How do we gauge the revenue, the business license? All these other things that go along when you have a cash economy?”
But Golden and her cannabis group say the reaction they received on July 4 shows most people back their call for making cannabis accessible.
“It was really amazing to have this freedom,” said Juliet Lockwood, a group member, about joining the others at the parade. “It felt good to be out. We all had so much confidence and faith.”