SAN LEANDRO CITY COUNCIL | The fate of medical cannabis in San Leandro will not rest at the ballot box after all, but patients looking to medicate their ailments will, instead, be limited in their choice of dispensaries after the City Council voted, 6-1, to allow the permitting for just a single dispensary. If all goes as planned, San Leandro could have its first medical cannabis dispensary as earlier as late 2014.

Going into Monday’s meeting, the likelihood of formally approving a draft ordinance allowing up to two dispensaries was high after it was approved Sept. 16 by a majority of the council. However, a city staff recommendation written late in the legislative process tied the effective date of the ordinance to passage of a potential tax measure on the November 2014 ballot. This annoyed some council members who felt their previous direction to staff was clear.

Councilmember Ursula Reed said it was her understanding the council had already approved dispensaries, “I’m surprised we’re back at this spot again,” she said. Councilmembers Jim Prola and Pauline Cutter also disagreed with city staff’s late recommendation linking council approval to a ballot measure. “I think it’s disingenuous for us to go down two roads,” said Cutter.” Afterwards, a few council members said there were unaware how the ballot measure suggestion made it into the staff’s recommendation. Councilmember Diana Souza was the lone vote against dispensaries.

The approval of medical cannabis dispensaries just a few years after the council nearly placed a strict prohibition on them came with some disappointment for supporters following a motion to limit their numbers to one was successful, 4-3. In September, Mayor Stephen Cassidy and Cutter sought the limitation. On Monday, they were joined by Councilmembers Benny Lee and Souza. The move, however, may have been influenced by election year politics.

Cassidy, who is up for re-election next year, said the community is split over the issue of medical cannabis in San Leandro. “We need to walk before he run,” he said, as rationale for limiting dispensaries to one. But, he erroneously stated Oakland currently processes four dispensaries or, one for every 100,000 residents, and doubted San Leandro, with a population of over 85,000, needed two dispensaries. In fact, Oakland has eight dispensaries which would have nearly matched San Leandro’s proportion of dispensaries to residents if two were approved.

Oakland also reaps great tax benefits from its dispensaries. Although, the ballot measure provision was stricken from the ordinance, a majority of the council voiced support for exploring the option in the future. According to City Attorney Richard Pio Roda, a potential tax measure would need just a simple majority of voters to pass if proceeds from the taxation of medical cannabis are designated to the general fund. In the meantime, the city has no estimates on the cost of application fees and business licenses for potential dispensaries or which city department will oversee them.