Despite Protests Marijuana Dispensaries Are Coming to Alameda, California

Alameda Dispensary

After a longstanding ban on weed sales Alameda’s city council finally voted to allow two medical-only dispensaries. But they have yet to open. Unsatisfied with the lack of progress a pair of committed local activist groups continued to organize and successfully lobbied the city to double that number recently and include recreational sales. Now the first dispensary to locate on the island, which neighbors Oakland in the San Francisco Bay Area, has been granted the right to pursue a permit in spite of a nearby kung fu studio’s recent kicking and screaming.

The International Chi Institute located at 1532 Webster street fears that a dispensary next door (on the corner of Haight and Webster) would negatively affect the kids who frequent their fight club. This is despite overwhelming evidence proving that crime goes down when dispensaries move into town and property values go up. Plus an avalanche of available information supporting the healing powers of pot including reports that it helps kids—some of whom even rely on it to survive. Anyhow after learning about the possible dispensary Joanna Lau, the kung fu studio’s manager, unsuccessfully mounted a propaganda campaign and circulated a petition to stop the cannabis business from opening. And because Alameda’s cannabis ordinance was poorly worded she was close to achieving her goal.

Up until a city council meeting on November 27 Alameda defined youth centers as places “primarily” used for social and recreational activities for minors. Lau tried to take advantage of the ambiguous language claiming that the kung fu studio was “primarily” a youth center despite the fact that many adults attend classes there as well. Debbie Potter—Alameda’s community development director who claimed that the original wording was vague and difficult for city staff to regulate—says that youth centers will now be defined as places “exclusively” for youth activities.

“It was determined that martial arts studios should not be considered youth centers,” Potter told KRON 4 during a recent on-camera interview, “and that the definition should be reworked such that if you were exclusively serving minors you would be a youth center. But short of that you would not be considered sensitive use.”

Potter also told the East Bay Times that the changes were not only to clarify land use at the Haight and Webster location but to further clarify use throughout the city’s green zone (the area designated for cannabis businesses) which is dotted with martial arts and dance studios that are often frequented by youth but not exclusively used by them. “If we don’t have clarity to this process,” she said, “and if we don’t have a sense of a working definition there is the potential to eliminate all of the future dispensary locations.”

Debbie Potter Alameda DispensaryMake no mistake a majority of the city does want future dispensary locations. The data is in: 70% of Alamedans support local access to cannabis says Carrie Tillman, CEO of Cannabis Health Advocates LLC.

“The city has spent two years of due diligence to integrate the most regulated substance in California into our island community. Cannabis is safer than alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceutical drugs and for many people, it is an alternative to these products. It’s time to move forward and welcome local dispensaries who believe in responsible business for the benefit of our community.”

“During a time when the city faces many challenges from traffic to deficits I firmly believe that it is the responsibility of the city to educate residents about the facts of recreational cannabis sales,” Rich Moskowitz co-founder of Alameda for Safe Cannabis Access told Stuff Stoners Like before the crucial November 27 city council meeting. “And to emphasize that assumed access or assumed health risks to minors have been shown by the actions of the state and the science to be untrue. As such the city has the responsibility to negate such false arguments presented by certain parties designed solely to provoke citizens via means of untruths and fears.”

At the highly-contentious November meeting Alameda Vice Mayor Malia Vella further dispelled the untruths saying that, “No youth is going to be wandering into a dispensary, or going into a dispensary unaccompanied or accompanied. That’s strictly prohibited. There’s no way around it.”

“As long time residents of Alameda we have a good sense of what will work and what won’t work in Alameda in terms of a dispensary,” says Mark Hersman CEO of Portman Enterprises looking to open an Alameda-based dispensary. “We’ve had very constructive conversations with our elected leaders and we’ve adjusted our plans in order to bring in a dispensary that won’t disrupt the social fabric of our community. We’re doing everything in our power to replace the failed policies of prohibition with a business that will allow safe and convenient access to cannabis, coupled with the best possible factual and scientific information about cannabis, while also taking safeguards to keep cannabis out of the hands of our youth.”

It’s not smooth sailing just yet for the Webster street dispensary however. Once the owners win the license award they will still need to apply for a conditional use permit via the city planning department. At this stage any neighbor within 300 feet of the location can challenge the permit, says Hersman. “These are the rules for all new businesses, not just cannabis, it’s standard to keep the peace in neighborhoods and business districts.”

SuperWeedMan“We are winning a lot of battles here in Alameda but the war on marijuana is not over,” says local activist Phillip Redd best known for doling-out free cannabis-laced cookies at local events and for his well-known SuperWeedMan Grows series on YouTube. “Marijuana is safer than alcohol but I don’t think the new Mayor of Alameda can admit that.”

The celebrated pot activist may be right. Along with new mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, who’s term starts on December 18, council member Frank Matarrese (who’s term ends on the18th) voted against changing the definition of “youth centers”—a move that would have made it far more difficult for cannabis business to locate and open in the city. Next steps? The Alameda city council will vote on the ordinance to change the definition of “youth center” on December 18.

“It’s important for the public to know that the final vote on the definition of “youth centers” will be at this council meeting on December 18th starting at 5pm (so that we can wind up my issues before we switch mayors at 8pm), says current Alameda mayor Trish Herrera Spencer a cannabis supporter and cancer survivor who’s term ends at 8pm the night of the crucial meeting. “To pass it requires one more vote by the council. The last vote was 3-to-2 so it’s important that the public stays involved. We’ve got to get that vote in before the new people are seated at 8pm.”

Two city council members will be replaced by 8pm that night. One we hear is not much in favor of marijuana, Tony Daysog. Another new member, John Knox White, claims that he is a supporter. Will the vote happen before the new blood takes office at eight? If the new council members take office before the decision how will they vote? It’s anybody’s guess. So those interested in making their voice heard are encouraged to attend. Added bonus? Phillip Redd will probably be handing out his famous (and delicious) free weed cookies.

How do you feel about marijuana dispensaries opening up in Alameda? Please let us know in the comments section below.

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