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More Rules Needed for Pot Clubs

Problems caused by lack of regulations


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Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Author: Chip Johnson
Published: Monday, April 18, 2005 - Page B - 1
Copyright: 2005 San Francisco Chronicle 
Contact: [email protected]

California -- Nearly a decade after forward-thinking officials in several Bay Area cities approved laws allowing medical marijuana clinics, they must figure out how to regulate them -- because few people on either side of the debate deny that the clubs are running amok.

More than 60 of the dispensaries operate in the region -- from Livermore to Belmont -- as a result of Proposition 215, which California voters approved in 1996 to make marijuana legal for medicinal purposes.

Two examples highlighting the problem have come to light in the past week.

In Union City, a pot club opened without proper business permits earlier this month, and when city officials found out, they shut it down.

The City Council then voted to place a moratorium on medical marijuana outlets in the East Bay city until the city has looked for appropriate locations and come up with regulations to govern their operations.

About the same time, San Francisco pot club co-owner Jeff Hunter was arrested in Emeryville after chasing business partner Jennifer Prasetya into the parking lot of the city's police department. He and his wife were arrested on the spot for making threats and annoying calls to Prasetya.

The trouble began when Prasetya announced she was pulling her investment out of the cannabis dispensary. She complained that Hunter, an ex-con with a conviction for cocaine trafficking, was selling pot to people without medical cards and allowing the kind of on-site loitering often seen outside liquor stores.

San Francisco, where at least 37 of the clubs operate, has put a moratorium on new pot clubs while it comes up with regulations.

Oakland also passed a moratorium after pot clubs quickly sprouted last year along Telegraph Avenue just north of City Hall -- in an area nicknamed "Oaksterdam.''

And Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley, who championed the medical marijuana initiative as a member of the Oakland City Council, called for a moratorium on new pot clubs in the unincorporated areas he now represents.

Less than a year after he lobbied for Oakland to allow eight to 10 pot clubs in the city, he came to the realization that seven might be too many for his own constituency, and Miley isn't the only politician who is backpedaling.

It now seems like the bold steps taken to embrace the 1996 state law may have been premature. Many clubs were up and running before most local governments had come up with a way to control operations and lay down rock- solid rules for them to follow.

The ensuing chaos can be seen outside most of the clubs, and that is something that not even the most ardent supporters would attempt to deny.

Jeff Jones, executive director of the Oakland Cannabis Buyer's Cooperative and a leader in the medical marijuana movement, acknowledges the problems of loitering and perhaps even fraudulent sales at some pot clubs.

But he blames the state for passing a law without regulations to ensure its proper use.

When Jones' club ran a pot dispensary, there were times when he was suspicious of a patient but had no discretion in filling his doctor's recommendation.

"The media casts us in this light, because we are attracting it, but without some regulations in place, there is little we can do about it,'' he said. But in the next breath, Jones speculates that many of the "able-bodied- looking young men'' hanging around clubs are patients without recommendations, self-medicating undiagnosed conditions.

I can agree with Jones' assessment as long as he and his ilk can agree that there is an equal possibility that the loiterers are relatively healthy young men who really like smoking pot.

"Gee, you've made that observation, too,'' said Alameda County Sheriff's Sgt. Kelly Miles, a member of a special investigations unit that tracks pot clubs operating in unincorporated areas.

From Miles' side of the street, the typical pot club customer hardly looks as if he or she is suffering from a health malady.

"That's more the exception than the rule,'' Miles said. "There is one club that operates in our district, and none of their patients look like they need it.''

Those problems are the tip of the iceberg. Transporting the drug or growing it for medical use in large quantities is still unlawful, but there have been discoveries of huge indoor gardens whose owners claim to be growing for medicinal use.

If that weren't enough, Berkeley residents Jessica Gibson and Winslow Norton were arrested in Mendocino last week with 40 pounds of pot in their vehicle. Sheriff's deputies were unmoved by documentation showing they were transporting for medical use. They each were held in lieu of $250,000 bail.

When Michael Norton, Winslow's father, brought $150,000 cash to post bail, the sheriff's department seized that cash as well.

There are more than a few bugs to be ironed out in California's generous medical marijuana laws. With such enormous profits at stake, there will always be someone willing to take advantage of a poor public policy until something is done to clear the smoke.

Chip Johnson's column appears on Mondays and Fridays.

Related Articles & Web Site:

Oakland Cannabis Buyers Club

Oakland's Noble Pot Experiment

Newsom Declares Moratorium on Marijuana Clubs

Resolve Issues on Medical Pot




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