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Alameda Moves To Put Pot Club In County Hospital May 9, 2005 - sfgate.com
OAKLAND -- An Alameda County Board of Supervisors committee today approved a marijuana dispensary ordinance which includes a proposal to have medical marijuana at a county-owned hospital.
The proposal is now scheduled to go before the full Board of Supervisors on May 24 for final approval.
If the proposal is approved, Alameda County would be the first county in the state to have a dispensary for medical cannabis at a county-owned hospital.
At today's Transportation and Planning Committee meeting, which was attended by about 50 people, Alameda County Sheriff Charles Plummer, the county's top law enforcement officer, said he thinks Supervisor Nate Miley's proposal to set up a marijuana dispensary at Fairmont Hospital in San Leandro "is brilliant."
Plummer said, "We have a chance in this county to be a model" for other jurisdictions in how to dispense medical marijuana in a safe and orderly fashion. Having the county run a dispensary "would take the profit out of it," he said.
However, Miley said it would be at least six months before the county is ready to set up a dispensary at Fairmont hospital campus.
Currently, seven medical marijuana dispensaries operate in the unincorporated parts of Alameda County, mainly in unincorporated Hayward and San Leandro.
Dispensaries that operate in cities throughout the county, such as Oakland, Berkeley and Hayward, wouldn't be affected by the ordinance.
If the proposed ordinance is approved May 24, it would only allow between three and five dispensaries to operate, thus forcing at least two of the dispensaries now in business to shut down.
If a Fairmont dispensary is approved down the line, it would be the only dispensary allowed in the unincorporated parts of the county.
A major obstacle to having a dispensary at Fairmont is the ongoing conflict between state laws approving medical marijuana and federal laws that prohibit any possession, use or sale of the drug.
Supervisor Scott Haggerty, who serves with Miley on the committee, said he would vote to approve a dispensary at Fairmont only if federal officials indemnified Alameda County from any criminal or civil liability.
"I would never put county employees in a position where they could be incarcerated," Haggerty said.
Haggerty also said he only wants the county to allow two or three dispensaries, not the five recommended by Miley.
Miley said he thinks having a dispensary at Fairmont "is the right thing to do" and he would push for it even without federal approval as long as a majority of supervisors endorsed the idea.
Plummer said the county needs to "proceed as rapidly as we can" to approve some sort of ordinance regulating medical marijuana dispensaries.
He has set a June 17 deadline for an ordinance to be finalized. If the county misses his deadline, Plummer said he will cite federal law and order his deputies to shut down the seven dispensaries now doing business in unincorporated Alameda County.
Plummer said, "I'm not opposed to medical marijuana, but we need to do this right."
Referring to his long career in law enforcement, Plummer said, "I've abided by the law for 53 years and I won't stop now."
Speakers at today's meeting were divided over the proposed ordinance.
Some people praised it, stating that dispensaries need to be more closely regulated, but some people opposed it, saying the county shouldn't limit the number of dispensaries.
Sparky Rose, the executive director of Compassionate Caregivers, which operates a dispensary in unincorporated San Leandro, said, "Our primary concern is the selection process" by which the county would choose which dispensaries could operate.
Chris Hermes, legal director of Americans for Safe Access, said he's opposed to the proposed cap on the number of distributors, the proposed ban on on-site consumption of medical marijuana and to having the sheriff's department run the permit process.
Hermes said county health officials should be the ones to issue permits because he believes medical marijuana is a public health matter, not a law enforcement matter.
But Angelo Madrigal, the director of student services at the San Lorenzo School District, which is located near one of the dispensaries, said the clubs should be more tightly regulated because activity there is "counterproductive to the message we're giving to students to stay away from drugs and marijuana."
Poppy Richie, a mother and teacher from San Leandro, said the dispensaries are allowing healthy young people, including her son, to obtain cards that allow them to use medical marijuana.
"Marijuana is a gateway drug for kids and I'm concerned about its effect on young people," she said.
GOOD ideas don't always become reality - for practical reasons.
Take Supervisor Nate Miley's proposal that Alameda County consider opening a medical marijuana dispensary at Fairmont Hospital in unincorporated Ashland. It makes sense in the ever-evolving aftermath of Proposition 215, the medical marijuana measure approved by 56 percent of Californians in 1996. The California Supreme Court has found it to be as legal and legitimate a prescription drug as any other.
"If it's medical," Miley says, "let's put it in a hospital setting. Let the county go about doing it. It just makes sense to me." And other people.
Unfortunately, the U.S. government doesn't see it that way. It's against federal law to cultivate, possess and distribute marijuana. To date, there are no exceptions. The Bush administration sees it that way, and so, supposedly, does the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to rule this year on whether federal bans negate laws in the Golden State and nine others that allow medical pot use with a prescription.
Thus, the fate of Miley's innovative idea — Sheriff Charles Plummer called it brilliant — may ultimately be decided at another level. Supervisor Scott Haggerty indicates he's not apt to endorse such a clinic unless Congress approves it. Other board members also may not want to put workers in the untenable position of being arrested while doing the county's bidding. The idea raises other questions:
-Fairmont is a public medical institution that receives federal funds through Medicare and other programs. How might having a medical marijuana facility on site affect accreditation and federal funding?
-Do Alameda County residents want their county to be in the medical marijuana business? If the feds want to be nasty about it, such a facility could have implications for other programs.
There have been social and legal problems with some private clinics. Plummer seems to believe that having the county own such a facility increases its chances of being operated correctly. We hope that would be true.
-What would be the source of funding for such a clinic? Would it be public or on a contract with a private vendor?
From whom and how would marijuana to be dispensed be acquired? Would the county grow it? Buy it? Remember, it's illegal under federal law, and Uncle Sam's 21st century G-men may want to nip similar ideas in the bud by making an example of such an operation.
There are a multitude of sticky, nuanced questions that must be pondered and answered before the county proceeds. In and of itself, it's a good idea, one we'd like to see the county seriously consider if state law prevails. But if setting up a medical marijuana clinic in a public hospital exposes the county to federal sanctions, it may not be worth the price. The Board of Supervisors needs to figure that out.
Alameda County rejects hospital marijuana dispensary June 8, 2005 - sfgate.com
Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that the federal government can crack down on the use of medical marijuana, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors backed off a plan to locate cannabis dispensary in a public hospital.
But the supervisors voted 4-0 to open three medicinal cannabis dispensaries - in unincorporated areas of Castro Valley, San Lorenzo and Ashland/Cherryland. Those would join seven already operating within the county's jurisdiction.
Because some neighbors do not want medical marijuana distributed near their homes or schools, the board had considered a plan to open a dispensary in Fairmount Hospital. Doing so, county officials said, would make it easier to regulate the drug and screen patients.
But Supervisor Gail Steele said Monday's Supreme Court decision in a California case doomed the idea, which she said may have been impractical anyway. Steele said supervisors feared losing federal health funding if the dispensary were located in a county-run hospital.
"Everyone feels very vulnerable now but the people of California voted for medical marijuana and we are trying to make this possible," Steele said. "It's true that there have been abuses in medical marijuana in California but it is totally unfair to keep this from people who really need it."
Federal officials have indicated that they plan to continue to enforce federal drug laws in California but it remains unclear how frequently they will target medicinal users. Steele said she hopes that pot clubs will remain fairly low priority.
Alameda County will oversee the clubs with a team made up of health officials and sheriff's deputies who will work to curb any non-medical use of marijuana.
"If things are done in a responsible way, the feds will hopefully leave us alone," Steele added. "I belive they have more important tings to focus on than severely ill people using medicine approved by their doctors."