Cities Say No To Medical MJ


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Five years ago, Michelle London would turn marijuana into a butter and spread it on toast for her mother, who was dying of lung cancer.

"She couldn't smoke it anymore," she recalled. "We put it on wheat toast. It worked. It was really a shock. It prolonged my mom's life."

Today, London, 34, of Livermore deals with diabetes, which has extended into gastroparesis, nerve damage in her stomach.

"My food stays in there for days and it ferments," she said. "I vomit a lot and get sick ... People think I'm healthy or they think I'm a drug addict or a prankster or something."

London is one of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Tri-Valley residents who rely on cannabis to relieve physical and psychological ailments. Their backgrounds are diverse, they suffer for a variety of reasons and many are reluctant to take addictive prescription drugs.

To get their marijuana, for now they must take to the freeway to reach a licensed dispensary in the larger cities.

"For me, I'm younger, so the only burden is the additional wear and tear on the car and the time involved while driving," said lifelong Livermore resident George Wilson. "I've been fighting like hell for something (to open here). There's got to be a system where everyone is happy."

In the Central Valley, the latest battleground is in Tracy, where the city's lone dispensary, the Valley Wellness Center, is fighting to stay open. City officials insist it doesn't comply with business code standards. An arbitration hearing took place Thursday and a decision is expected in coming weeks.

"The nearest place you have to go is Oakland, possibly Hayward," said attorney James Anthony, the dispensary's defender. "Going south, you're talking about Bakersfield. Going north, Sacramento."

Tracy resident Carl Hassell, who was at Thursday's hearing, lists about a half-dozen physical ailments he endures, including chronic arthritis.

"I used to drive to Hayward in excruciating pain," he said. "The day I found out there was a dispensary in Tracy was the same day they were ordered to close, and I cried. I don't wish anyone in the world the type of pain I live with. And I'm 49 years old."

Tracy is only the latest city to just say no.

Dublin has banned dispensaries. Last year, Pleasanton and Livermore extended moratoriums. And Manteca officials have indicated they are working on an ordinance to ban marijuana dispensaries. City officials cite two main concerns: Dispensaries draw crime and violate federal law.

However, advocates point to Oakland's four dispensaries as a successful system, borne out of Proposition 215, which legalized medicinal marijuana in 1996. Oakland passed regulations in 2004 that structured strict operation guidelines.

"I meet with them about once a quarter to talk about any problems," said Barbara Killey, a city administrative hearing officer for Oakland. "In reality, I don't really hear of any problems. There are never any complaints. I think police departments that cite negative activity in Oakland are responding to incidents that happened prior to the 2004 ordinance."

However, dispensary opponents don't have to look that far. Last month in Hayward, the DEA raided a dispensary, discovering about 30 pounds of marijuana and $200,000 in cash.

"That was one touted as being a successful operation," said Livermore Mayor Marshall Kamena. "And yet when the DEA raided them, the quantity of money they found made it clear that they weren't working within the boundaries the city established."

Scott Smith, a patient from Manteca, said the Hayward raid demonstrated that regulations worked.

"That's why you need a certain kind of accountability," he said. "If you break the rules, you are not a viable part of the community."

Dispensaries also require a considerable amount of city resources to regulate, something some of the suburban towns would rather not undertake.

"They were the first in making medical marijuana dispensaries available to the public," said Pleasanton Mayor Jennifer Hosterman. "Because of that, we've had an opportunity to watch their programs, watch their successes and failures. While everyone recognizes that we need to make it available to those who are sick, the reality is that dispensaries have had problems."

Some of those problems include teenagers acquiring marijuana, she said.

"For us, it's a balancing act of the needs of the community with the safety of the community," she said. "Besides, the police did identify rather easy availability of medical marijuana in the Tri-Valley. Your care-giver can get it for you. All you need is a letter from your doctor."

Tri-Valley residents can find it difficult to locate a suitable dispensary, London said. Her friend, Andrew Glazier of Livermore, maintains a blog called "Grow Love," featuring dispensary information.

"In the city, people are forced into negotiating with a different political landscape," Glazier said. "Those hills are not just a geographical divide, they are a psychological divide. So there's no real urge to create a club here. For me, it's the traffic backup. I'm sick of sitting on (Interstate) 580."

Last month, advocates celebrated a small victory when Livermore balked at adopting a permanent ordinance. With its moratorium still intact, the City Council instead requested more information on successful operations in Oakland and other cities.

"All of the information that was presented to us by the (city) staff was negative," said Councilwoman Marj Leider. "I hope they investigate whether there is anything positive."

Leider and Councilman Tom Reitter have indicated they would support a dispensary if they could be sure it would be safe.

"There are people who need medical marijuana, especially those who are on chemotherapy," Leider said. "I know people who have used it while on chemotherapy and don't use it anymore. They did not become addicted."

Kamena opposes a Livermore dispensary, saying he has to consider community standards.

"If Livermore continues with its ban, it's continuing the status quo," Kamena said. "We aren't taking medicine away from anybody."

Meanwhile, local patients describe themselves as regular people, concerned about future access. Glazier lives with a severe back injury he sustained while working in construction.

"My back is stiff. I go to bed. If I roll over in the middle of the night, which every human being does, I wake up and I can't go back to sleep," he said. "It'll drive you crazy. If I go to a doctor, they might prescribe Vicodin or some heavy drug like that. In other words, they'll give me opiates. Anything that is an analogue of an opiate is addictive."

William Dolphin, spokesman for American for Safe Access in Oakland, offered a different take of why big cities are more receptive to dispensaries than the suburban cities of the Tri-Valley and beyond.

"Places like San Francisco, Santa Cruz, even Santa Rose, and Oakland, have had more direct experience ... because of AIDS," he said. "There was no question that that was a serious medical emergency that needed to be dealt with.

"With the suburbs, it's a slightly different situation with different people. However, cancer is something that affects most families across the country. As more people become aware of who medical marijuana patients are, attitudes within communities will change."

Newshawk: User - 420 Magazine
Pubdate: 8 January 2007
Author: Brian Foley
Copyright: 2007
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