Pubdate: Thu, 13 Nov 2008 Source: Alameda Sun (CA) Copyright: 2008 Alameda Sun Contact: http://alamedasun.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/4905 Author: Dennis Evanosky Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/pot.htm (Cannabis) Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/mmj.htm (Cannabis - Medicinal) Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/find?115 (Cannabis - California) COUNCIL DECLARES MEDICAL MARIJUANA MORATORIUM West End Dispensary Continues To Operate Unchecked At last Thursday's meeting, the city council voted to close the barn door. The problem, however, is that the "Purple Elephant" escaped last July. The council unanimously adopted an "interim urgency ordinance of the City of Alameda making findings and establishing a 45-day moratorium on the establishment or expansion of medical marijuana dispensaries." The ordinance and the city manager's memorandum that accompanies it infer that city staff will closely investigate every facet of "marijuana medical dispensaries" before allowing one on the Island City. All this due diligence comes on the heels of the opening of a marijuana dispensary, the Purple Elephant Non-Profit Collective, currently operating on Webster Street. Prop. 215, passed by California voters in 1996, allows medical patients, with a physician's recommendation or approval, and their designated primary caregivers to legally possess and cultivate marijuana. The law leaves the distribution and sale of marijuana to dispensaries like the Purple Elephant. Just how did a marijuana dispensary open on Alameda's Webster Street? According to one speaker at Thursday's meeting, the operators of the Purple Elephant snuck through the permit process undetected by simply telling city hall's permit counter that they were opening a "retail operation." Neither the city's permit department nor the city attorney's office would confirm that claim as of press time. Those in better tune with the culture of marijuana could have, perhaps, told the city that the collective's name hints at what sort of "retail" it has to offer. Purple Haze is a strain of marijuana. Now the question arises: Will the city be able to corral the escaped beast or will it have to simply tame the "Purple Elephant" and allow it to thrive on the West End? In order to answer that, the city council unanimously approved the ordinance that will give city staff time - at least 45 days - to study the matter. (Representatives of Purple Elephant did not return phone calls from the Alameda Sun.) As with any matter before the council, opponents lined up against proponents of medical marijuana. One speaker at Thursday's meeting told the council that access to marijuana is a medical, not a commercial issue; another claimed that many of those who hold medical marijuana cards are not sick, making the proposed moratorium more necessary. Vice Mayor Lena Tam expressed concerns about problems other jurisdictions were having with medical marijuana dispensaries and said that the moratorium would allow city staff to uncover and learn from challenges in other cities. Councilman Frank Matarrese agreed, saying that city staff should look at what other jurisdictions have done, so as not to reinvent the wheel. The state of California allows local jurisdictions to establish their own ordinances regarding distribution and sales. The federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) criticizes this, correctly pointing out that California has no uniform guidelines. For example, while Marin County allows a patient to cultivate up to six mature plants or possess a half-pound of dried marijuana, Sonoma County allows a patient to cultivate up to 99 plants or hold three pounds of marijuana. The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), which recently wrapped up its national convention in Berkeley, says that Alameda County joins almost a dozen other locales in California as going on record as favoring legal medical access to marijuana. In 1994, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution urging the California state legislature to pass - and then-Gov. Pete Wilson to sign - Senate Bill 1364, which would reclassify marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II substance, thereby making it available for use by prescription. The legislature passed the bill, which Wilson vetoed. Some 14 years later, a new generation of county supervisors is still sorting through its options. For example, in July, the board agreed to allow licensed dispensaries in unincorporated Alameda County to carry hashish, but would not allow these same dispensaries to carry food made with marijuana. The Alameda City Council needn't look any farther than across the Estuary at Oakland, where the federal Drug Enforcement Administration continues to keep that city's medical marijuana dispensaries under scrutiny. A DEA investigation in Oakland led to a case that went to the United States Supreme Court. On May 14, 2001, in unanimous 8-0 decision, the high court ruled against the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative. (Justice Stephen Breyer recused himself because his brother, a federal judge, had presided over a related case three years earlier.) In their ruling the justices said, "Marijuana may not be distributed to persons who prove a medical necessity for the drug." The decision affirmed existing federal law that classifies marijuana as an illegal substance and offers no medical exceptions. As a result of this decision, federal law still bans marijuana entirely, even though California law permits its use for medical reasons. An October 2006 Oakland Tribune article reported that, "Federal agents raided several Bay Area sites and arrested 15 people to shut down what supporters called a medical marijuana cooperative, but what federal officials called a drug-dealing operation." It is unlikely that the DEA would look at Alameda's Purple Elephant any differently.