San Leandro Approves Draft Ordinance Allowing Two Dispensaries

SAN LEANDRO CITY COUNCIL//DISPENSARIES | After much advocacy and derision regarding one of San Leandro’s most controversial topics, the City Council passed a draft ordinance that could allow up to two medical cannabis dispensaries in city boundaries following over three years of debate.

A large amount of medical cannabis supporters argued for the safe use of cannabis and its positive therapeutic benefits to patients. Their arguments were reflected in the votes of the council’s two biggest advocates for dispensaries, Councilmember Michael Gregory and Vice Mayor Jim Prola. “We have been messing with this for three years and it is time we move on and get beyond this,” said Prola, before citing statistics that claim dispensaries lower crime and regulation will help squash the black market.

The council’s common fence sitters on this issue, Councilmembers Ursula Reed, Pauline Cutter and Mayor Stephen Cassidy, came out in favor of dispensaries. Reed’s vote was likely the biggest surprise considering she voiced support for a ban after the California Supreme Court ruled last Spring that cities could institute an ordinance to ban dispensaries. “I took the opportunity to do the due diligence of visiting Harborside Center,” said Reed. “I have gone back and forth on this issue but after visiting the health center today I was very impressed.” Cutter argued the same point after visiting Harborside.

But despite a victory for pro-cannabis dispensary advocates in San Leandro, a new battle, although far more particular one, is building steam. Both Cutter and Cassidy want to cut the allowed amount of dispensaries in the ordinance from two to one. Souza, in an effort to undercut the ordinance, threw her support behind Cassidy and Cutter’s proposal. However, the draft ordinance, for now, passed as is with a recommendation for a maximum of two dispensaries. The issue of limiting the number of dispensaries to one could return to the council as early as this November.

Some on the council, most notably Reed, also want to push for a ballot measure to tax the cannabis in order to collect more from the dispensaries rather than business fees. Reed argued the potential to collect could mean millions in new tax revenues for the city that is currently being lost to Oakland, which regulates its dispensaries with taxes.

But religious special interests, most notably San Leandro’s Heritage Evangelical Foundation Church, also showed up in force Monday night, lead by Pastor Alan Fong, who offered a staunch and socially conservative opposition to medical cannabis.

The religious congregation flooded the chambers of the San Leandro Senior Community Center last Spring as well at a council work session on medical cannabis dispensaries. But unlike then, Fong steered clear of the religious argument against drugs and instead favored a more practical approach denouncing the dispensaries as detrimental to the quality of life in San Leandro.

“There is a public safety risk of what medical marijuana would bring into the city. There would be the use of it while driving, there would be increase in juvenile delinquency and juveniles would have greater access to it,” said Fong, “Medical marijuana would damage the reputation of San Leandro being a safe place to live.”

Fong’s pressure on public safety and worry over unprescribed use was followed by two of the council’s most ardent naysayers to medical marijuana dispensaries, Councilmembers Benny Lee and Diana Souza. “My response is cultural. In the Asian community we do have a lot of concern over any kind of unprescribed use,” said Lee. Souza advocated for the issue to go to the ballot instead.

The draft ordinance continues to the Board of Zoning Adjustments and Planning Commission for review before returning to the council for final approval.

Shane Bond is an East Bay Citizen contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Shane_Bond_