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Pot clinic hopefuls call applications too invasive August 31, 2005 - insidebayarea.com
Deadline for three permits passes, and owners say county asked inappropriate questions
Is Alameda County being too nosy when it asks medical marijuana dispensary permit applicants for the names of ex-spouses, former in-laws, driver's license information and even if they have work-related pensions?
That's what some cannabis club owners in unincorporated areas claimed as Tuesday's application deadline for three prized dispensary permits approached.
Alameda County Sheriff Charles Plummer, whose department is in charge of applications, had one word for them during a meeting break at the county administration building in Oakland: "Tough."
Sheriff's Capt. Stephen Roderick expanded on his boss's characteristically blunt-spoken comment. The Sheriff's Department, which will evaluate applicants and select permit recipients, "did what it thought was necessary to obtain information so that the dispensaries are run appropriately," Roderick said.
Adele Morgan, co-owner of We Are Hemp in San Lorenzo, said the detailed forms were complicated. The personal information sought by sheriff's investigators would be more appropriate to candidates for deputy sheriff, she said.
Oakland attorney Dennis Roberts, representing Cherryland's Garden of Eden, complained in letters to county supervisors and to Plummer that the application's questions are "a huge invasion" of privacy.
Tuesday afternoon, Roberts also voiced concern that information about finances, illegal drug use, arrests and Social Security numbers could become public record and used against the applicants.
Some of the information "serves no useful purpose" and is "an invasion of privacy," Roberts said. "Why is it important if someone's former father-in-law has (criminal) convictions?"
The applications were due at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. As of late Monday, only one of the six clinic operators had submitted his application. Roderick said the names of applicants would be released today, after members of his department initially reviewed the paperwork.
There are six dispensaries operating in Ashland, Cherryland and San Lorenzo. In June, county supervisors agreed to halve that number but added Castro Valley as one of the communities where a marijuana sales outlet could be located.
Roderick said representatives of county departments will review the applications and select permit holders, probably in October. Applicants are not limited to current dispensary locations.
By Oct. 1, three medical marijuana dispensaries in Ashland and Cherryland could disappear like a puff of smoke.
The cannabis clubs, half of those currently operating in the unincorporated county, got orders Thursday to close down after not applying earlier this week for permanent operating permits.
The letters were signed by Alameda County Sheriff Charles Plummer, an outspoken foe of marijuana dispensaries.
If the doors don't close, sheriff's Capt. Stephen Roderick said, these businesses face misdemeanor charges of violating the medical marijuana ordinance adopted in June by county supervisors.
The two Cherryland businesses are We Are Hemp at 913 E. Lewelling Blvd. and Garden of Eden, 21227 Foothill Blvd.
The Ashland business is A Natural Source at 16360 Foothill Blvd., the site of an Aug. 19 shootout in which one of the five gunmen was killed.
The three remaining marijuana sales outlets, which met Tuesday's permit application deadline, can remain open while county administrators review the applications. A recommendation is expected in the fall on which, if any, of these clinics should receive two-year marijuana sales permits.
The letter came as a shock to Adele Morgan, a co-owner of We Are Hemp.
Morgan's five-year-old business is the oldest medical marijuana clinic in southern Alameda County's unincorporated communities. She already was reeling over what she said was a misunderstanding that led to her failure to meet Tuesday's application deadline.
"I thought applications were on hold," Morgan, a retired nurse, said Thursday afternoon. "I just needed an extension to get the money for the application and my rent," amounting — she added — to $4,000 for application-related expenses and $3,000 for her monthly rent.
The message machine was on at the Garden of Eden on Thursday afternoon, while a man answering the telephone at A Natural Source said the business owner was away.
Oakland attorney Dennis Roberts, who said earlier this week that he represented the three clinics that did not submit applications, pledged to file suit against the county unless it extended the application deadline and removed some of its questions for personal information.
Morgan said Thursday that Roberts does not represent her and that she only authorized him to write a letter on her behalf requesting an extension.
County supervisors, frustrated by the number of medical marijuana dispensaries that had sprouted up in unincorporated areas during the last two years, voted in June to create an ordinance that limits the allowable number of dispensaries to three.
In the fall, when the pre-ordinance study started, there were seven dispensaries in the unincorporated areas. New clinics were banned while ordinance regulations were researched and, in the interim, one of the Ashland clinics closed.
The ordinance allowed operating dispensaries in unincorporated areas to have the first opportunity to get the three coveted permits.
The application period opened July 21, and Roderick said sheriff's representatives were "up front" about the application process.
"It is not our policy to trick anybody," Roderick said Thursday.
Roderick said earlier this week that his department is not inclined to change the application deadline.
Quicker than a puff of smoke, county efforts to clamp down on medical marijuana sales in unincorporated areas have been placed on hold.
Alameda County has reined in its efforts to close three medical marijuana clinics by Oct. 1, and to subsequently issue three prized cannabis club operating permits in unincorporated areas, a county supervisor and sheriff's captain said Friday.
Instead, We Are Hemp in San Lorenzo, the Garden of Eden in Cherryland, and A Natural Source in Ashland - all of which faced closure after not applying in time for the county-mandated permits - can continue operating while the application process is re-reviewed.
Three other dispensaries, which met the Aug. 30 application deadline, will be in limbo until the five county supervisors - who set policies for unincorporated areas - decide later this fall if the application process should be revised.
Heat over dispensary application forms - from politicians as well as marijuana sales outlet operators - prompted the delay.
Applicants were asked questions about family members, past employment, driving records and non-felony arrests or convictions.
Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker of Alameda said the county has to balance the need for medical marijuana sales facilities with safety and good business practices.
"The application forms were not approved by the board, and perhaps they went too far in terms of invasiveness, in the personal background information sought," Lai-Bitker explained.
She referred to recent robberies at several clinics, including one on Aug. 19 at a dispensary on Foothill Boulevard in unincorporated San Leandro that resulted in the death of one of the robbers.
Six dispensaries are operating in Ashland, Cherryland and San Lorenzo. In June, county supervisors approved an ordinance that would halve that number, but added Castro Valley as one of the communities where marijuana could be sold. Supervisors also decided that sales should be limited to three locations with county permits and supervision.
The sheriff's department is in charge of the permit process. Sheriff's Capt. Stephen Roderick said Friday that various county departments might ask the supervisors to revise the ordinance and modify the application form.
That review could occur as soon as October, he said, adding that "there are a lot of factors to be reviewed."
Operators of We Are Hemp and A Natural Source, and the attorney for the Garden of Eden, could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
Jack Norton operates The Health Center on East 14th Street in Ashland, one of the three dispensaries that submitted applications on time. A sheriff's deputy stopped by his business Friday to announce the continuation.
Norton declined comment, stating "I'd like to see how this plays out."