The island city of Alameda will soon welcome recreational cannabis on its shores. Prior to leaving office on December 18 Mayor Trish Herrera-Spencer signed into law an ordinance allowing recreational cannabis sales. Soon the small island neighboring San Francisco and Oakland in the Bay Area could have delivery services and four recreational cannabis dispensaries with on-site consumption—a rarity in California and a big win for apartment dwellers and others who are not allowed to smoke pot in their rentals.
“After a two year journey the Alameda city council listened to a wide array of constituents and settled on a very reasonable set of ordinances,” says Mark Hersman CEO of Portman Enterprises who seeks to open a dispensary on the island. “Now it’s the responsibility of business owners to open and operate cannabis businesses that respect the social fabric of the community that we all love.”
Over the last few decades many of the Bay Area’s progressive cities including Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco—home of the nation’s first public marijuana dispensary, the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club opening in 1992—welcomed cannabis dispensaries and their healthy stream of tax revenue. Alameda however has been slow on the take. After a longstanding ban on weed sales its city council voted to allow two medical-only dispensaries only a year ago. Yet not a single shop has opened since the short life of the Purple Elephant dispensary in 2008. It’s sudden shutter led to a total ban on cannabis dispensaries on the entire island.
“At the end of 2017 when we were successful in first getting the total ban lifted and then successfully passed medical sales with onsite consumption we were stoked,” says Rich Moskowitz of the group Alameda For Safe Cannabis Access and the Alameda Cannabis Times—formed to advocate for medical and recreational use respectively. “We all knew the process could allow both medical and recreational access but initially the city council were all adamantly against adult use sales. Mayor Trish Spencer however was all for it. So after realizing that we could write a ballot measure for just $200 and that if we collected enough signatures, roughly 4700, the city would have to either put it on the ballot for the people to decide or simply accept the measure as written.”
“As we spent the summer of 2018 at public and private events collecting signatures,” remembers Moskowitz on the deck of his boat floating in a sunny Alameda marina, “the council and city staff quickly became aware of how well our efforts were being received. That pressured the city to actually move forward with adult use and recreational sales.”
Currently under Prop 64 consumption of cannabis in public is illegal in the State of California. It’s also banned in many hotels and Air B&B’s typically don’t allow pot smoking in their guest rooms. Furthermore most local governments have explicitly prohibited “cannabis lounges” and on-site consumption by licensees. However local jurisdictions like the city of Alameda can authorize the on-site consumption of cannabis by state-licensed retailers and/or microbusinesses as long as access is restricted to adults, consumption isn’t visible to the public and harmful substances like booze and alcohol aren’t permitted on the premises.
“Our island community, with it’s high number of renters and a strict smoking ordinance, deserves a space for safe access,” says Lilli Keinaenen of the Alameda Island Cannabis Community. “As it stands there is no legal way to consume inhalable cannabis products on the island unless you own your home. You can’t do it inside your apartment, or on the street, or in your car, or at the beach or anywhere else in public. And that’s not fair for those who require medical access to cannabis or just like to consume cannabis for relaxation instead of drinking. An onsite consumption space would give people a safe place to consume all the while keeping the smoke and odor away from those neighbors who do not wish to partake. It’s a win for everybody.”
It really would be a win for everybody—including tourists. Alameda looks to join a short-list of cities poised to capitalize on the cannabis tourism potential in the Golden State. So far only five cities aside from Alameda allow such use. They include San Francisco and Oakland here in northern California and southern cities such as Cathedral City, West Hollywood as well as Palm Springs. South Lake Tahoe has also flirted with the idea as have quite a few other areas most likely.
“I’m proud that Vice Mayor Malia Vella, Council member Jim Oddie and I worked with our community, including cannabis health professionals, to create policy that supports the availability of lab-tested cannabis,” says outgoing Mayor Herrra-Spencer a cancer survivor and cannabis supporter. “I’m confident that Alameda will be a leader in responsibly meeting the needs of recreational consumers and medicinal users including the fastest growing demographic—senior citizens.”
The first recreational dispensary to locate on the island has been granted the right to pursue a permit. Others should roll out soon as the island allows the build out of its four pot stores.
“Alameda has come a long way in the last couple of years however we still have far to go, says Moskowitz. “We need to remove the stigma. We need to create onsite consumption lounges both private and public. And we need to create programs for our neighbors to help them understand the untruths of the past and the current science around weed, addiction, children’s exposure risk, public health—we convinced the city council now we just have a handful of others to win over.”