Pubdate: Sat, 26 Jul 2014
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 2014 San Jose Mercury News
Author: Eric Kurhi
Page: B1


County Officials Urged to Keep Cannabis Dispensaries Open

SAN JOSE - It was growing up with a sister suffering from the 
debilitating effects of rheumatoid arthritis that set LeAnna Gomez on 
a career path dedicated to medical marijuana.

"She had it since she was 8 years old," said Gomez, who has since 
become CEO of the San Jose-based Papadon's collective. "She was 
addicted to painkillers and had major surgeries - she had twisted 
toes, and they had to break her ankles to straighten her feet. She 
already had a shot liver and underdeveloped organs from years of 
being on pharmaceuticals."

But when her sister got on treatments of edible cannabinoids, the 
effects were dramatic. The vomiting stopped, her organs healed and 
she was able to rise from her wheelchair, Gomez said.

Gomez was one of about a dozen concerned parties who met with Santa 
Clara County officials this week to urge them not to enact a ban on 
dispensaries. In the wake of San Jose's new stricter regulations, 
they told officials that it would create more hardships for patients, 
who are already running out of places to get their medicine.

Since the city passed its new rules on where and how the collective 
can operate, Gomez has lost three of five operations and is 
desperately looking for compliant new digs to save what's left.

"I've been looking night and day for those 630 parcels," she said of 
the 1 percent of the city where cannabis clubs are still allowed. 
"They're not available. They're occupied."

County officials are preparing to recommend a total ban on 
dispensaries in unincorporated areas when the Board of Supervisors 
returns from its summer hiatus on Aug. 5. Similar laws have been 
passed in Gilroy, Los Gatos, Milpitas, Morgan Hill and Sunnyvale. 
Statewide, about 200 municipalities have adopted such a ban.

"I'm homeless with cancer, and now I have to deal with this?" said 
Zsa Zsa Taylor, who was left in the lurch when the tincture that 
helps her disappeared from San Jose shops last week because of rules 
on what can still be sold. "Now I'm trying to find a black market 
connection to get my oil. I've never done anything illegal in my 
life, and now I have to go illegal."

Deputy County Executive Sylvia Gallegos said that after consulting 
with the sheriff's office, district attorney's office and other 
county bodies, "every single department was emphatic that we 
institute a ban, not strictly regulate" cannabis clubs.

Gallegos said the county is very sympathetic to legitimate medical 
concerns. She plans to recommend to the Board of Supervisors that the 
county monitor the fallout from San Jose's restrictions; if the 
number of outlets falls below a threshold that can be considered 
sufficient for patient needs, the board can revisit the issue and 
possibly undo the ban.

"But if we do that, the regulations are going to be pretty robust," she said.

That would include distance regulations from spots that might be 
adversely affected, and measures to ensure that only patients get 
medicine that comes from the facilities.

"They would have to be pretty dang stringent," she said. "But at this 
moment, we think there is enough patient access."

Advocates said that instead of a complete ban, they would rather the 
county extend the moratorium and develop a better model while working 
closely with dispensaries and patients.

"A ban is craziness," said Scott Lane, who is not a patient or 
involved in the business but said he believes the county is poised to 
follow San Jose in bad governance based on biased studies. "The 
county has always been a safety net of last resort. This is right in 
your ballpark."

Because of the new rules imposed by San Jose in June, all but about 
seven to 10 of the city's 78 dispensaries will be illegally operating 
within a year.

County officials said there were concerns that as a result, shops 
would pop up in the unincorporated, rural areas. And that could mean 
a foothold for outlets selling the drug recreationally, if an 
expected state initiative to legalize pot qualifies for the ballot 
and is approved by voters in 2016.

Opponents have pointed to studies that showed kids were indeed 
getting their marijuana at legal dispensaries and cited medical stats 
revealing detrimental effects on developing minds. Youth access is a 
concern shared by federal authorities, said Gallegos, as well as the 
question of where the drugs come from.

"The sheriff and DA busted some people and found the source had been 
affiliated with organized drug cartels," she said. "And I don't think 
anyone wants to support organized drug cartels."

Speakers also said the weed businesses were detrimental to the 
character of suburban neighborhoods and added to crime and blight.

John Lee, who led the recent failed signature campaign for a cannabis 
club referendum in San Jose, said there's more to worry about if only 
illegal sources remain.

"The black market is already increasing," he said. "It has the exact 
opposite effect, and we're putting our children in danger. I can take 
you to a street corner right now and show you a gang member saying, 
'Hey, I'm open for business.' "
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom