SAN LEANDRO CITY COUNCIL | After two failed motions, the council approved, 6-1, to push a one-year ban on medical marijuana dispensaries and grow-sites within its city limits to their last meeting in July. The council again kicked the can down the road, except, this proverbial container is one where you might hide your weed. Over the past two years, previous council votes have failed to gain a specific action going forward leading to moratorium on dispensaries last year and in some ways, highlighting the growing gridlock and dysfunction on the current council.

“There appears to be a majority opposed to an outright ban, but not a majority as to what they want to see in place,” said Mayor Stephen Cassidy, who urged the wavering majority to formulate a specific course of action. Cassidy said he is amendable to small, boutique dispensaries, but not large-scale cooperatives that provide services for thousands of customers. “There’s a legitimate need for medical marijuana,” but also rife with abuse, he said.

Aside from Councilman Jim Prola, from the outset a vigorous defender of medical marijuana, the fence-sitters on the council in various degree ranging, from council members Michael Gregory to Ursula Reed and Pauline Cutter, communicated little movement in the tepid opinions from as late as September.

A concern for some members is the maze of pending legislation and lawsuits regarding medical marijuana along with a preponderance of issues stemming from the city’s past maneuvers. With AB 2312, a bill authored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano that could ease some of the confusion at the local level with medical marijuana, sitting in the State Legislature without a definitive path into law and the likelihood of the State Supreme Court hearing the issue early next year, San Leandro finds itself caught in a veritable no-mans land. In addition, the city’s current moratorium which expires Sept. 30 cannot be re-upped, said Assistant City Attorney Richard Pio Roda.

The motion approved by the council Monday night would put before the council in late July an ordinance banning the medical marijuana dispensaries, but allow for a one-year sunset clause ending June 30, 2013. Any delay, said, Pio Roda, could result in uncertainty surrounding the city’s exposure to a lawsuit should a dispensary seek to do business in San Leandro. However, without an ordinance, the city’s finance director could still forbade granting a business license to a dispensary based upon the fact medical marijuana is still illegal under federal law, said Pio Roda. Despite the hoopla, there have been no recent inquiries into bringing a dispensary to San Leandro, although Councilwoman Diana Souza said Monday, one owner has more than once contacted her.

In contrast to previous hearings on medical marijuana in San Leandro, a large group of speakers were on hand, mostly in opposition of the proposed ban, including some of the city’s political leaders along with some with aspirations for public office.

School board member Diana Prola followed her husband’s lead in urging the council to forego with the ban. Prola said she admitted to mixed-feelings over the efficacy of the medical marijuana until a recent trip to visit a friend suffering from an aggressive form of cancer. The friend, she said, was unable to sleep for two weeks due to pain, yet appeared rested and lucid after using medical marijuana.

Three potential council candidates for this November weighed-in raising the likelihood medical marijuana could become an election issue in San Leandro. Chris Crow, a likely candidate for Councilwoman Joyce Starosciak’s open seat, urged the council to put the issue up for a city referendum this fall and charged staff and the police chief of offering “information of fear” and “items meant to scare us.” Benny Lee, another likely candidate in Starosciak’s District 4, took the opposite stance. While recounting a story about the demise of childhood friend who suffered from multiple addictions, Lee said, “I understand it is there to help people, but we need to protect our children.”

Bal Theatre owner Dan Dillman, who has been making overtures recently about running against Councilwoman Ursula Reed in District 2, said adding more restrictions on medical marijuana will engender more crime and violence in San Leandro. He added, the reported $24 million in seized marijuana by the San Leandro Police over the past two years, would have amounted to roughly $2.5 million in tax receipts. “We have power to make regulations to protect our community and monetized it,” Dillman said.

Similar to other hearing on medical marijuana, the loudest voice belonged to Jim Prola, who again gave an impassioned plea on behalf of dispensaries. “How do you criminalize old people?” asked Prola. “They can’t grow their own pot, are you kidding me? They have to be able to get their medicine. It’s absolutely critical they get their medicine.”