Pubdate: Thu, 13 Nov 2008
Source: Alameda Sun (CA)
Copyright: 2008 Alameda Sun
Author: Dennis Evanosky
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)


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

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.