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Oakland's marijuana clubs thrive City officals see few problems since tight regulations imposed 04/11/2005 insidebayarea.com
OAKLAND - Oaksterdam may be no more, but Oakland's four medical marijuana clubs are thriving seven months after city officials imposed sweeping new rules that extinguished the pot Mecca.
City officials found no serious problems associated with the cannabis clubs during a recent review, and owners and pot advocates said they would push the Oakland City Council to allow more dispensaries to open.
"The lack of problems show pot clubs can be good neighbors, good citizens, interested in helping our community," said Jeff Jones, executive director of the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative.
Council President Ignacio De La Fuente said he was pleased the regulations successfully reduced nuisances caused by several unregulated clubs.
"The city wants to get marijuana to people who need it for medical reasons," De La Fuente said. "Oakland has really set the pace for the region and the state."
The city has received several complaints that patients have been treated rudely at the clubs, paid for more cannabis than they actually received and were forced to disclose confidential medical information.
Medical marijuana advocates said those were common problems in emerging markets and would be eased by increased competition if more clubs are permitted to open throughout Oakland.
"The limit of four is artificial and not based on anything," said Hilary McQuie, a spokeswoman for Americans for Safe Access. "They need better criteria, real data."
However, De La Fuente said he would not consider expanding the number of clubs because not even one Oakland resident has complained to the city about not being able to obtain medical marijuana.
McQuie said the lack of complaints shouldn't be interpreted as proving the four clubs have adequate capacity.
"Not only are more people being diagnosed with illnesses that respond to marijuana, but increased confidence in the legality of medical marijuana is encouraging people who otherwise have shied away to get their card," McQuie said.
There is anecdotal evidence the clubs forced out of Oakland have relocated to areas that haven't yet regulated the dispensaries, including San Francisco and unincorporated parts of Alameda County.
The director of the Berkeley Patients Group, Debbie Goldsberry, told city officials she has seen an influx of Oakland residents since the regulations went into effect.
OCBC representatives told city officials that only about
2,000 Oakland residents are registered as patients and caregivers, while the four clubs are permitted to have at least 4,500 customers.
The council's Public Safety Committee will review a report summarizing the implementation of new law at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in Hearing Room 1 at City Hall, 1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza.
"I'm happy that we haven't had problems," said Councilmember Nancy Nadel.
Nadel said she was still concerned about a federal crackdown and called the conflict between the federal prohibition on marijuana and the state's medical marijuana law "the elephant in the room."
Richard Lee, who operates SR71 Coffeeshop on 17th Street, agreed, saying he was more nervous about the club's legal situation than he was before the city issued him one of the coveted permits.
"We're more public and official," Lee said. "The war is going our way. It's becoming just a regular business."
Lee said he has urged city officials to allow his coffeeshop to stay open an extra hour, until 9 p.m., to accommodate customers traveling from as far as the San Joaquin Valley to purchase marijuana.
Only one club - California Advocate Relief Exchange - remains in what was Oaksterdam, the triangle between 17th and 19th streets and Broadway and Telegraph Avenue. The three other clubs are clustered around downtown Oakland.
"It's worked out fine," said Dale Gieringer, executive director of California NORML. "There is a fairly good relationship between city officials and the pot clubs."
In addition to regulating the dispensaries, the regulations reduced the number of plants individuals can have from a maximum of 72 small indoor plants to 12 immature and six mature or flowering plants.
Perhaps because of the passage of Measure Z in November, which made private adult use of marijuana the Oakland Police Department's lowest law enforcement priority, that limit has not prompted any complaints, marijuana activists said.
Gieringer and Jones said they would push the city to lift its ban on smoking and other consumption of pot at the clubs and ease the requirement clubs be at least 1,000 feet from other dispensaries, schools, churches and youth facilities.
"It's onerous and overburdensome," Jones said of the on-site consumption ban.
Allowing on-site consumption protects patients from being forced to use the drug on the street, and provides a social outlet for shut-ins and access to other services, such as acupuncture and massage, medical marijuana advocates contend.
Nadel said she favored a lifting of the on-site consumption ban, as long as employees or other patients weren't exposed to secondhand smoke.
De La Fuente said the city's next step would be to establish reporting and operating regulations to ensure the dispensaries are operating lawfully, paying all federal, state and local taxes and maintaining adequate insurance. The regulations also permit the city to audit the dispensaries to ensure they are not "excessively profitable," a provision that has not yet been enforced.
To fund that review, the city would be forced to double the fees charged to the dispensaries, according to the report. Three of the clubs have 500 to 1,000 customers and pay $10,000 annually. The fourth has more than 1,500 customers and pays
$20,000 a year.
Lee said he was not opposed to the increased fee.
"Especially because of all the city is doing to protect us from the federal government," Lee said. "I'm very proud to live in Oakland."