ADVOCATES PROPOSE REGULATION; COMMUNITY OPPOSES MORE DISPENSARIES
SAN LORENZO, Calif. – As far as wide-spread acceptance for medical marijuana goes the nation has entered in a new era of, at least, listening to its benefits. You could say the alternative healing industry hampered by the stigma of illicit drug use and violent crime is growing up after years of hiding in the dark alley of social acceptance.
About 40 San Lorenzo residents resumed a burgeoning dialogue started last April regarding the unincorporated area’s questions about medical marijuana dispensaries. Earlier attempts catering to often chronically ill patients have failed often ending in raids by the Drug Enforcement Administration. Last year, one such dispensary, We Are Hemp, located at the end of East Lewelling Boulevard was shut down only to reopen in January of this year.
At a similar town hall-type meeting attended by the entire Alameda County Board of Supervisors highlighted the sleepy bedroom community’s reticence about such collectives. Thursday night’s meeting was more cordial while featuring a panel of five advocates for medical marijuana.
A large part of the problem advocates of medical marijuana dispensaries face is a deep seated aversion to anything remotely connected to the drug. “The best way to tackle a problem is to communicate it in a respectful way,” said Becky DeKeuster, a commissioner on the City of Berkeley’s Medical Cannabis Board. James Anthony, another panelist and attorney urged for a end to the stigma of marijuana in the community, “We want to take the shame out of it. Take it out of the doctor’s office to the collective and show that there is nothing to fear from it.”
The perception of dispensaries being meeting grounds for crime and attractions for abusers of the drug to score more products for their own pleasure is false according to Dr. Amanda Reiman who is a lecturer at U.C. Berkeley and authored a research paper on the subject.
The typical medical marijuana patients are whites males just under the age of 40. According to her work studying a collective in Berkeley, almost 75 percent of customers have existing health care coverage while 70 percent suffer from some type of chronic disease and 80 percent attended some college. Most insurance companies do not cover such services. Reiman believes dispensaries fill in a need in the community for health care services, some of which are attained at a small cost or, in some cases, free of charge. Regardless of possible demand in the community, there are many quality of life questions and fears of dispensaries making San Lorenzo less attractive to businesses hoping to move to its long stagnant downtown.
Wulf Bieschke, the president of the San Lorenzo Village Homes Association, while not entirely against the notion of medical marijuana as an alternative avenue of healing for some people, believes the millions already spent on attracting businesses to the area surrounding Hesperian Boulevard and Paseo Grande will be even harder within the current depressed economy, “Business will not open next to a medical marijuana dispensary,” he told the panel.
DeKeuster said her experience with the Berkeley Patients Group dispensary located on San Pablo Avenue has shown the collective can easily coexist and thrive with other business while creating much desired foot traffic. She also said storefronts can be designed in a inconspicuous manner.
A constant theme throughout was the need for dispensaries to develop rigorous self-regulation with a nod towards helping patients in the community instead of allowing dispensaries in the area geared solely to profits. Matt Kumon, a civil rights litigator familiar with keeping clients within the bounds of the law, takes a more pragmatic and conservative approach to dispensaries where all sides can work together in harmony, “I’m tired of the division between local government, law enforcement and patients,” he said, “We need to get everyone on board.”
The Alameda County Sheriffs Department seems to be willing to work with all sides. Lt. Kelly Miles, an investigator for the county, says the sheriff supports the ordinance, but also says “medical marijuana tends to attract certain types of crimes.”
One public speaker found the entire conversation exasperating and believes the community is pass the entire “Medical Marijuana is Good 101” phase of the conversation and needs to move forward to regulating the business and helping people. “I can get marijuana and crack on any street corner,” Susan Beck of Cherryland said, “But I can’t get fresh vegetables but once week at the Farmer’s Market.”