OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL | Oakland may be one of the most cannabis-friendly cities in the nation, but count Councilman Noel Gallo out when passing around a blunt. The Fruitvale District 5 representative derided the city’s policies on medical cannabis during Tuesday’s public safety committee hearing. A report by the Cannabis Regulatory Commission raised concerns over the disproportionate number of persons of color arrested for possession in Oakland along with recommendations for allowing cannabis smoking in designated areas, such as dispensaries.

Despite few comments from the committee’s four other members, Gallo, known for espousing strong family values, registered clear opposition to the report, although, he later said he supports medical cannabis.

Gallo, who chairs the public safety committee, said he disagrees with his colleagues. “I had a different upbringing,” he said, as he described contemporaries in his youth whose attitude was, “taking care of my family wasn’t cool.” He later peppered his remarks with references to Woodstock-era musician Carlos Santana, friends “being too cool for school” and drug use in the late 1960s “being fly.”

As a former Oakland school board member Gallo said he often encountered elementary school students caught with bags of cannabis, either using the drug themselves or “making drops for mom and dad.”

“I saw what happens. I see who always fails,” Gallo said referencing Latino youths.

The commission’s report, previously known as the Measure Z Community Oversight Committee until last year, says Oakland is missing out on economic benefits due to a ban on smoking cannabis inside dispensaries. Numerous cannabis-friendly groups have avoided bringing business to the city because of the prohibition, the report says.

Gallo was undeterred saying he is opposed to the economic benefits and tourism aspects of cannabis in Oakland and recalled family members in the southwest who tease him by saying, “Here comes Noel from the city of hope and dope.”

Even with a significant drop in cannabis-related arrests in the region and state and law enforcement officials who clearly state such offenses are nowhere near a priority, the commission reported sobering statistics showing blacks and Latinos in Oakland are being targeted by police. Of the 452 arrests for various cannabis offenses in 2011, blacks (74.5 percent) and Hispanics (13 percent) made up a vast majority of arrest. Just 5 percent of those arrested were white and 3.7 percent were of Asian descent.

“Cannabis does play a significant role in providing probable cause (most times
in public places such as a street comer or vehicle) for officers to further engage a suspect,” says the report quoting Oakland PD representatives, “often resulting in a search of property or person.” Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney called the statistic “shocking on the face of it.”

Councilmember Dan Kalb, in response to the entire document to be presented to the entire council, said he is not certain “wholesale changes” need to be made, specifically to Oakland’s prohibition against smoking cannabis in designated areas, but urged an open a dialogue on the issue.