Pubdate: Wed, 30 Mar 2016
Source: East Bay Express (CA)
Copyright: 2016 East Bay Express
Author: David Downs


Both East Bay Cities Are Ending Their Long-Standing Prohibitions on 
Medical Pot and Embracing the Fast Growing Industry.

During a special study session on March 15, Emeryville city 
councilmembers called for an urgency ordinance to immediately 
legalize the delivery of medical marijuana into Emeryville by 
existing regional providers. "I have heard from people who are in 
pain," said Councilmember Nora Davis, referring to Emeryville 
patients who have had trouble obtaining cannabis because of the 
city's twenty-year ban on medical marijuana.

Emeryville's leaders also want to eventually permit at least one 
medical marijuana dispensary to serve its 10,000-person population, 
and they could go so far as to deem Emeryville a cannabis laboratory 
hub, analogous to its thriving biotech industry, where pot 
entrepreneurs would be encouraged to develop and test marijuana medicines.

In San Leandro, Harborside Health Center is expected to begin 
construction on the city's first dispensary in the next few weeks.

San Leandro officials believe Harborside will generate tax revenue 
for the city, one of many benefits.

The shift in both cities' approach to medical marijuana is a sign 
that new state laws are helping spur growth of the legal cannabis 
industry at the local level.

The Emeryville city council's study session marked a new chapter in 
the tiny, strategically located city's history.

Ever since enactment of Proposition 215 in 1996, which allowed for 
the use of medical marijuana, Emeryville has maintained a total ban 
on all commercial pot activity including cultivation, transportation, 
and retail. Emeryville's shift on pot policy is one of the clearest 
examples so far that new statewide pro-medical cannabis regulations 
are incubating local progress.

Last year, the California state legislature passed a comprehensive 
medical marijuana law called the Medical Marijuana Regulation and 
Safety Act (MMRSA). MMRSA's dual licensing structure requires medical 
marijuana businesses to obtain both local and state permits.

The law also forces local jurisdictions to either craft local rules 
or eventually cede regulatory authority to the state.

Most cities initially went the easiest regulatory route and 
implemented total bans. But now more cities are beginning to allow 
marijuana deliveries, dispensaries, and sometimes even cultivation.

Emeryville is one of many cities that have been spurred by the MMRSA 
to rethink their ban. At their recent study session, Emeryville Mayor 
Dianne Martinez and councilmembers Nora Davis, Ruth Atkin, and Jac 
Asher asked city staffers and experts in the audience about the nuts 
and bolts of the medical marijuana industry, including how to get 
medical marijuana cards and how much a growing pot plant might stink.

By the end of the meeting, Davis called for an immediate urgency 
ordinance to legalize medical pot deliveries. She said that for 
years, providers have refused to deliver pot in Emeryville due to the 
city's ban. Many are worried that they could be arrested or charged 
with a crime, and that patients are suffering as a result.

The idea was approved unanimously by the council.

The urgency ordinance could come back at the next council meeting in 
early April. If passed, it will take effect immediately.

Over the long term, Emeryville's city councilmembers said they want 
details on where to put a single medical pot dispensary that could be 
converted into a recreational shop if state voters eventually decide 
to fully legalized marijuana.

One aspect of the pot business that Emeryville councilmembers said 
they would not permit, however, is cannabis farming, due mainly to 
space constraints. Emeryville is just 640 acres in size, and the city 
has a policy of approving permits based on the "highest, best use" 
for the space.

Currently Emeryville is focusing on building more housing, parks, and retail.

"Let's leave [farming] to Humboldt," said council member Atkin.

Instead, Emeryville's leaders want more detailed options for cannabis 
distributor permits and cannabis labs, they told staff.

Emeryville could end up generating a substantial amount of local tax 
revenue from the industry.

Staff noted that San Leandro's soon-to-open dispensary alone could 
generate about $61,000 in local taxes in 2016, and around $110,000 in 
2017. Emeryville's leaders hope to emulate San Leandro's rules in some form.

"I think this could be very important in setting the table [...] so 
that we will be well-poised to take advantage of medical marijuana as 
an industry," said Martinez.

Atkins said permitting vape lounges for patients who could not 
consume marijuana in multi-unit apartment and condo buildings would 
be another important consideration. Representatives from the 
Emeryville Police Department had only one comment during the entire 
study session; they called for adequate security among any pot 
providers who are allowed to operate in Emeryville so that marijuana 
businesses don't become nuisances or targets of crime.

Emeryville is part of a quirky patchwork of East Bay local government 
medical pot regimes, running from total prohibitions in Albany and 
Alameda to robust industries in Oakland and Berkeley. But 
councilmember Jac Asher said that San Leandro's developing cannabis 
regulations are a good model to follow.

And because of its long-standing total ban, Emeryville has a blank 
slate upon which to craft its new cannabis regulations. It can 
capitalize on the MMRSA in specific ways that cities with legacy 
medical pot laws cannot, staff attorneys for the city said.

San Leandro could have its first and only legal medical marijuana 
dispensary open by August of this year. In 2015, San Leandro's city 
council approved Harborside Health Center's plan to run a single 
permitted dispensary. Harborside is currently seeking building 
permits to alter 1965 Marina Boulevard, a commercial building just 
off Interstate 880, and down the street from Kaiser Permanente's San 
Leandro Medical Center. Harborside founder Stephen DeAngelo expects 
to begin construction in the next three to six weeks, he said in an interview.

Finding the right location for the dispensary has been the main 
challenge. DeAngelo said that it is difficult to find landlords who 
are willing to lease to any cannabis business.

Cannabis is still illegal under federal law, and in the last five 
years US Attorneys in California have threatened to seize the 
property of hundreds of commercial landlords up and down the state 
for renting to pot enterprises. And while the US Congress zeroed out 
funding for this property seizure program in December 2014, many 
commercial and industrial landlords still worry about having their 
property seized if it's knowingly leased to a cannabis business that 
becomes the target of a federal enforcement action.

Another challenge for Harborside in San Leandro was space.

Harborside needed a place big enough to handle hundreds of patients 
per day, with lots of parking for Tri-Valley commuters who will 
likely drive over the hill and access medical marijuana there because 
it's closer to Livermore, Dublin, and Pleasanton than existing 
dispensaries in Oakland and Berkeley. "We're all about convenience 
for people going about their daily routine," said DeAngelo.

Harborside's San Leandro location will look and function much like 
Harborside's Oakland and San Jose dispensaries - with the clean, 
well-lit, friendly and secure vibe of a groovy bank. The San Leandro 
location will also include a beefed up center for cannabis 
cultivators. Harborside has partnered with Dark Heart Nursery to run 
a super-sized clone section that will "really be able to give growers 
the time and attention they need," said DeAngelo. Clones are small, 
starter pot plants that gardeners purchase and grow out at their 
home, or another location.

San Leandro's large Latino and Mandarin-speaking populations are also 
spurring Harborside to hire multilingual staff in order to offer 
educational materials and better service. "Shame on us," said 
DeAngelo. "We have not done enough outreach into immigrant 
communities and speakers of foreign languages."

Deliveries in Emeryville and a dispensary in San Leandro are the 
latest signs of a historic thaw in relations between small towns and 
the medical cannabis industry, DeAngelo said. The Alameda County 
Board of Supervisors is also rethinking the county ban on medical 
pot. "I think what you're seeing is that the message of MMRSA has 
been both some comfort to local jurisdictions to move ahead with 
regulations, and it also gives them a bit of a prod to do that under 
MMRSA," said DeAngelo.

While hundreds of cities continue to ban medical cannabis access, 
"it's their loss," said DeAngelo. Harborside has also volunteered a 
percentage of their gross revenue to the City of San Leandro as a 
kind of development impact fee that can be used to offset any 
increased need for police and fire services, or transportation 
infrastructure that will be associated with the growth of the medical 
marijuana industry.

"We're not creating a new industry, but a new kind of industry model 
all businesses should embrace," DeAngelo said. "The day is going to 
come when the vast majority of cities and towns in California are 
going to embrace cannabis, and there will be a few little islands of 
folks who do not. When you look at the number of jobs, the tax 
revenue, and public safety benefits that the cannabis industry 
brings, there's no doubt in my mind we will start seeing competition 
among cities soon, rather than bans."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom