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Oakland May Curb Marijuana Clubs' Growth Oakland City Council to Vote on Proposed Restrictions to Medical Marijuana Seller Clubs
The Associated Press
OAKLAND, Calif. Nov. 28 ? If there's an epicenter of the nation's medical marijuana movement, it may be in a gritty six-block area near Oakland's city hall, where at least 11 dispensaries sell pot to any California resident with a doctor's note. Since voters approved a state ballot measure legalizing medical marijuana in 1996, "pot clubs" have popped up in San Francisco, Hayward, Los Angeles and Santa Cruz, among other California cities.
But nowhere is their concentration as high as Oakland, leading some residents of this famously tolerant city of 400,000 to wonder if the proliferation of clubs has gone too far.
The city council is set to vote as early as next week on several proposed restrictions, after complaints from some business owners, ranging from the smoke to an escalation of street violence.
The proposals include requiring the clubs to have business licenses and zoning rules that would limit the number of clubs in an area. The city's far-reaching anti-smoking ordinance, which prohibits smoking in any commercial building unless it has a separate ventilation system, will likely be applied as well.
"I'm a strong supporter of implementing voters' wishes in making sure medical marijuana is available to patients who need it," said council member Nancy Nadel. "But because the industry has expanded quite quickly in our city, we need to put some regulations in place."
That the council would consider any restrictions on the clubs is a striking departure from the past.
Federal law prohibits the use or sale of marijuana for any reason, but nine states including California permit the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
In 1998, the city enacted what many advocates consider the most sweeping protection of medical marijuana use in the country, allowing patients to possess 24 times the amount of pot permitted under state law, and deputizing operators of a cannabis collective as "officers of the city," a title that confers some protection from local police enforcement.
In the six-block neighborhood where the clubs are concentrated, some who use marijuana to ease symptoms of AIDS, cancer and other illnesses leave the clubs quickly, tucking small bags of the drug into their purse or pockets.
Others stay at the clubs, where pot smoke occasionally wafts into the street, earning the neighborhood the nickname Oaksterdam, after the freewheeling Dutch capital where marijuana use has been decriminalized.
Most businesses in the immediate area have welcomed the pot clubs, saying they've actually helped the local economy, and the Oaksterdam neighborhood is gentrifying.
But armed robbers recently tied up a bouncer outside one club and fled with pot and a significant amount of cash. It was the last straw for a gay and lesbian youth center next door its director decided to move the center to a drug-free neighborhood.
"It's very good to have the clubs, but it brings in a lot of sketchy people who are trying to profit off the legalization," said Brian Bauman, who owns a record store near three of the clubs. "It brings people who hang around the streets and harass patients coming to pick up their medicine."
Even the club owners have concluded some limits could be a good thing.
"The clubs are definitely starting to push the boundaries it's part of figuring out how we fit in the medical world," said Ken Estes, owner of the 420 Cafe, a pot club that serves about a thousand patients each week.
Estes, who has used marijuana to treat pain ever since a motorcycle accident paralyzed him 20 years ago, said he would favor limits on the growth of the clubs.
"To slow fear down, I would really like to come up with a moratorium to stop growth and then revisit it after a few months," Estes said.
But Ed Rosenthal, an Oakland resident and leader in the national medical marijuana movement, said the clubs could remedy many problems on their own, such as beefing up security. Any government efforts to regulate the clubs would only hurt sick patients, he said.
"By having a number of facilities, there is competition and it brings down the price," Rosenthal said. "If there are fewer of these clubs, it means more people will be buying on the street."
Adam Lerch, a lifelong Oakland resident who just opened a restaurant called The Hot Dog Stand down the street from the 420 Cafe, said he is a strong supporter of the clubs. He likes their commitment to sick people, he said, and he thinks they will be good for his business.