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Oakland Plans To Snuff Out Some Pot Shops

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OAKLAND -- When Stacie Traylor opened a medical marijuana dispensary in a
vacant art-deco floral store four years ago, it stood among only a few.

Now the gritty downtown quarter is a major hub, with as many as a dozen pot
clubs surrounding Telegraph Avenue, and Traylor is upset at the notoriety
that has come to the city's cannabis corner.

Some shops allow marijuana smoke to waft onto sidewalks, a violation of at
least the city's smoke-free public building ordinance. They post men
conspicuously outside the front door, including one coffeehouse worker
soliciting passersby with palm cards, prompting neighborhood complaints
that the guards act like street-corner hustlers. A youth center for gays,
lesbians and bisexuals said it was forced to close in November because of
the nearby pot clubs.

The area in the shadow of City Hall has been nicknamed "Oaksterdam," a
reference to Amsterdam's freewheeling pot scene.

This week, the city of Oakland may be ready to clamp down. A proposal
expected to go before the City Council on Tuesday would impose a cap on the
number of shops, forcing some to close.

Such regulation could be contentious in an area that provided strong
support for California's Proposition 215, the 1996 ballot initiative
legalizing medical marijuana.

Cannabis shop owners tread a perilous path between state and federal laws.
They say the state law exempts their shops from prosecution, but federal
laws makes marijuana use illegal.

Brenda Brown, 46, is a supporter of the clubs.

"If it weren't for them, I'd be dead. I'd give up," Brown said outside a
coffeehouse that sells marijuana from a back room.

Brown, a therapist and advocate for the disabled, said she uses medical
marijuana for rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, and shuns prescription
painkillers because they make her feel "like a drug addict." She was
outraged that her favorite dispensaries might have to close.

Fewer Clubs, Fees Proposed

A staff proposal before the City Council would allow only three medical
marijuana clubs and impose licensing fees ranging from $5,000 to $15,000, a
city legislative analyst said. None of the dozen or so dispensaries and
suppliers is licensed by the city or state, the official said.

Many medical marijuana advocates said they welcome reasonable city or state
regulations because licensing could stave off federal raids.

"I'm pro-regulation, but I'm against restrictions," said Jeff Jones, 29,
who was designated by the city in the late 1990s to distribute marijuana.
His dispensary was quickly shut down by the federal Drug Enforcement

Jones now issues only photo identification cards through his Oakland
Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative, which validates physicians' recommendations
for medical cannabis and oversees 10,000 regular cardholders who show the
ID to club operators to make purchases. He said a limit of three
dispensaries would be too low.

The "Oaksterdam" nickname for the Uptown neighborhood has embarrassed city
officials, who recently redeveloped the elegant City Hall plaza three
blocks away and hope to extend the revitalization to the shuttered Fox
movie palace that is near at least four pot clubs on Telegraph Avenue at
18th Street.

Cannabis shop owner Traylor, 29, says running a dispensary is a serious

"It's not a joke for me," she said. "It's not Oaksterdam. It's not
Amsterdam. It's not recreational."

Traylor, who was named to a City Hall group studying the controversy,
added, "If what happens with the city results in a federal shutdown, that
would put a lot of people in danger and it could affect the economics of

One councilman has said he would not mind closing all the dispensaries.
Mayor Jerry Brown, the former California governor who lives several blocks
from the cannabis quarter, has asked for an inquiry and is perceived to be
taking a cautious stand as he considers a run for state attorney general.

A recent council meeting was packed largely with advocates of the state's
Compassionate Use Act, which allows marijuana as a medicine for AIDS,
cancer, arthritis and other ailments.

"Our issue is not whether we should have them. It's a question of where
they should be located and how they should operate," said Willie Yee,
senior policy adviser to Vice Mayor Henry Chang Jr.

"It's a classic land-use issue," Yee said. "You can walk down the street
and you can just smell the stuff."

Friction With Neighbors

A few months ago, leaders of the Sexual Minority Alliance of Alameda County
(or Smaac) Youth Center publicly complained that the facility was
surrounded by at least eight cannabis clubs, including two that flanked it.
The center opened in 1998 when Jones' club was the only one around.

The center's officers said patients were trying to resell pot to the
youths. Cannabis club owners said the youths also caused problems by
loitering on the street well after the clubs closed at 8 p.m.

Smaac Executive Director Roosevelt Moosby declined comment other than to
say, "We're just really drained by all of this."

Outside one of the marijuana dispensaries, the 420 Club, a man who gave his
name as "Q" was standing guard, checking co-op cards before allowing
visitors to enter the dispensary.

The city recently threatened the club with $500 fines for letting patrons
smoke inside. Among those who walk past the Telegraph clubs are pupils from
Lighthouse Community Charter School, where director Jenna Stauffer said her
kindergartners and 1st graders are confused by the smoke odors and her 7th
graders joke about it.

When "Q'" was asked why almost all of the visitors to his club on a recent
afternoon appeared to be able-bodied young men in their 20s, he insisted
they possessed valid cards and added that their illnesses may not be easily

As for public complaints that he and other guards resembled street
hustlers, he said robberies remain a threat.

"This is downtown Oakland," he said. "I'm just as nervous and scared as you

Pubdate: Mon, 19 Jan 2004
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Webpage: www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi
- -0401190197jan19,1,4542629.story?coll=chi-newsnationworld-hed
Copyright: 2004 Chicago Tribune Company
Contact: ctc-TribLetter@Tribune.com
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