San Leandro Inching Closer To Allowing Medical Cannabis Dispensaries

SAN LEANDRO CITY COUNCIL | Nearly three years ago, the San Leandro City Council was in the midst of reefer madness. In late 2010, it nearly placed a 22-month moratorium on medical cannabis dispensaries–a potential death sentence possibly leading to an outright ban. Through a slick parliamentary maneuver by Councilmember Jim Prola, who argued for a shorter moratorium, instead of the lengthier version preferred by two staunch opponents to dispensaries, the compromise proposal bought the city time as attitudes in favor of cannabis continued to be emboldened.

In hindsight, Prola’s outwitting of the City Council’s dissenting votes that night now stands as the defining moment when medical cannabis dispensaries began its road toward possible acceptance in San Leandro. On Monday night, the City Council will mull over a draft ordinance allowing up to two dispensaries to put up shop in San Leandro’s commercial and industrial zones.

Like much of the region and state, San Leandro’s attitude toward cannabis has evolved recently. Prola’s move in 2010 to enact a 10-month moratorium while some votes on the council teetered close to prohibition, was followed by two additional moratoriums. In the meantime, San Leandro Mayor Stephen Cassidy recently eschewed his earlier opposition against dispensaries from during his campaign for mayor and those on the fence softened their attitudes on pot.

In the past year, the City Council’s move toward dispensaries, despite worried direction by City Attorney Richard Pio Roda and the police chief, has led to various suggestions for a preliminary ordinance. However, the draft to be presented Monday night is the least restrictive proposal yet. In addition to allowing permits for a minimum of two dispensaries—located at least 1,000-feet from schools and parks and 500-feet from residential zones—the non-profit collectives must provide up to 3 security guards around the clock and maintain operating hours not to exceed 7 p.m.

Earlier version of the draft ordinance, clearly limited the dispensaries to the distribution only of medical cannabis to authorized patients. The current draft, however, allows baked products, such as brownies and cookies, to be sold on the premises. Refrigerated or heated items would still be prohibited, according the draft.

It may still be some time before the first medical cannabis patient lines up for a joint in San Leandro. Monday’s discussion asks the council to further direct staff on how to proceed. However, the votes to ultimately approved a medical cannabis ordinance appear to be there. Prola has long been a supporter of dispensaries. Councilmember Michael Gregory and Mayor Cassidy are also in support. Councilmembers Diana Souza and Benny Lee have consistently opposed dispensaries and Councilmember Ursula Reed, despite some wavering on the issue over the years, may have political reasons for opposing. She is a candidate next year for Alameda County superintendent of schools. Councilmember Pauline Cutter could be the swing vote, however, she has recently voiced support for dispensaries.

In the past, San Leandro’s older residents have typically been opposed to medical cannabis dispensaries over fears the collectives attract crime and find ways of ending up in the hands of children. Last February, Heritage Baptist Church, located on Merced Avenue, organized its congregants to oppose an early version of the draft ordinance. In a sermon posted online, its pastor urged his followers to “flood” City Hall with letter in opposition of medical cannabis. He then added, “We’re not going to win this in the power of the flesh. It’s going to be in the power of God.”