SAN LEANDRO CITY COUNCIL//MEDICAL MARIJUANA | On July 2, the San Leandro City Council was just hours from likely approving a one-year ban on medical marijuana dispensaries in the East Bay city. Earlier in the day, an California appellate court overturned a ruling in Southern California that now puts the legal theory behind San Leandro’s proposed ordinance in doubt. San Leandro City Attorney Jayne Williams recommended pulling the agenda item that night to allow for a further review of the city’s options.
On Monday, the ramifications of the appellate become clear as five of the seven council members used the ruling to not only justify their votes against a first reading of the now legally-dubious ordinance, they surprisingly moved the city the closest it has ever come to welcoming the burgeoning medical cannabis industry to San Leandro. The council directed city staff to analyze how San Leandro may go about regulating dispensaries within its city limits.
The developments this week seemed unthinkable even two weeks ago when a majority of the council seems particularly reticent over how to tackle the issue. Aside from holdouts, Councilmembers Joyce Starosciak and Diana Souza, who have long been opponents of the pot trade, the rest of the council appeared leery over taking a definitive stand. However, the stark change in the council’s switch from a ban to potentially regulating the industry, even moved Souza to say, although she dislikes dispensaries, she would support it if the majority of the council chooses regulation.
The biggest and most surprising reversal belonged to Mayor Stephen Cassidy. On Monday, he made a passionate and reasoned plea in favor of dispensaries. “I want us to move forward, be clear to staff,“ said Cassidy, who had also voiced displeasure over the council’s lack of direction on the issue earlier in the month. His initially reservations over dispensaries included the belief surrounding cities offered adequate access to legal marijuana and suspicions not all card holders were indeed patients. However, Cassidy now reasons, “You cannot say you’re in favor of medical marijuana and than restrict it in your city.” He later acknowledged public outreach may be needed for the potentially jarring city policy change involving the typically controversial subject of marijuana. “ I appreciate this may be a big change for the community,” he said.
Monday’s vote was a clear victory for proponents of safe access to medical cannabis, including the council’s most vociferous and consistent advocate for regulating dispensaries. Councilman Jim Prola said he was surprised by the night’s turn of events. “I didn’t think we had more than two votes—Michael [Gregory] and myself,” he said afterwards. During the meeting, Prola reiterated his belief that the prohibition on marijuana is creating the violence referenced by city staff and law enforcement. “Don’t let them scare,” said Prola, who advocated for a change in policy direction. “It’s the rule of holes,” he said. “If you’re in one and it’s not going anywhere–stop digging.”
Three candidates for City Council this November spoke publicly on the issue and offered differing perspectives. The subject of dispensaries will assuredly be a major campaign issue this fall. District 2 candidate Dan Dillman speaking in favor of regulation echoed a similar theme to that of Prola. “I’m looking at you guys to lead,” said Dillman. “Let’s not be scared about any of this. Let’s not live in fear.” Chris Crow, a candidate in District 4 agreed, but his potential opponent, Heron Bay Homeowners Association President Benny Lee said, while he is not opposed to medical marijuana, “I’m seriously concerned were opening the doors to recreational use.”
Claudia McHenry, a San Leandro resident, also opposes dispensaries. “These places, unfortunately, are magnets for individuals not interested in the great uses of medical marijuana,” she told the council. “Allowing a dispensary in San Leandro would only bring us problems.” The council will revisit the dispensary issue after its August recess, including the likelihood of an organized and vocal local response in opposition of any possible proposal. To date, no medical marijuana dispensary has shown concrete interest in securing a business license in San Leandro.