Marijuana rules fire up debate in East Bay city

Marijuana rules fire up debate in East Bay city
credit:East Bay Times

LIVERMORE — Fifty-eight percent of residents say they would support allowing a properly regulated medical marijuana dispensary to open in town, an online poll found as the City Council prepares to decide whether to allow one.

But many residents who live near an east Livermore industrial zone identified as a possible site are dead set against a medical marijuana shop anywhere near them, they told the city in public workshops earlier this year.

Facing those conflicting sentiments, the City Council is set to consider Monday night what kind of marijuana rules to adopt before a state pot legalization law kicks in Jan 1.

Livermore is the only city in the Livermore and San Ramon valleys where officials are discussing whether to allow a business to dispense pot for medicinal purposes. Officials in Pleasanton, Dublin, San Ramon and Danville have said they want the state to bud out and leave it to cities to say no to medical and recreational pot shops.

Livermore has held several public workshops, conducted the online poll and created a cannabis section on the city’s web site. Last week, top city staff released a recommendation for a two-tier approach to developing cannabis rules. As a first step, staffers said, the council should quickly pass a law barring all businesses from selling cannabis for either medical or recreational purposes. This approach would preserve local control and prevent the state from allowing a medical dispensary to open in Livermore after Jan.1 under state rules.

Then later, after the state finishes writing rules for how to regulate marijuana businesses, Livermore can decide whether it wants to allow a medical pot dispensary as an exception to the ban, city officials recommend. Specific exemptions, City Attorney Jason Alcala wrote in a report, show the city “is taking full control of these land use regulations.”

The council meets at 7 p.m. Monday at the council chambers, 3575 Pacific Ave.

Medical cannabis advocates want quicker action, and they say the online poll confirms widespread citizen support for a dispensary for medical pot. Of the 1,115 Livermore residents responding to the poll on the city’s website, 58 percent said yes to the question, “Should Livermore develop an ordinance to permit an appropriately regulated medical cannabis dispensary?”

Some 35.8 percent of those polled opposed a dispensary, and 6.2 percent had no opinion. And 56.6 percent said if a dispensary were allowed, an appropriate location would be an industrial area on the east side of town.

Anthony Rangel of Nature’s Remedy Collective said there is no reason the City Council can’t come up with a medical pot dispensary ordinance soon.

He said a regulated dispensary provides patients with a known, quality product at lower prices than those offered by unregulated black market businesses.

“You’re getting a known product of a higher standard,” said Rangel of Nature’s Remedy, a nonprofit advocate for patients who use cannabis. “The patients are going to get proper education about the product.”

Livermore Mayor John Marchand believes it’s still too soon for a local decision on medical pot dispensaries, because the state still has not yet crafted dosage and potency standards and other dispensary operating rules.

“It’s hard to buy in if you don’t know the rules,” Marchand said “We want to make sure these rules are in place before we allow a dispensary.”

Then there are the strong objections by homeowners who don’t want a dispensary anywhere within an east Livermore industrial corridor roughly west of Greenville Road and north of Patterson Pass Road.

While a dispensary would be more than 1,000 feet away from homes or schools, several homeowners have submitted letters expressing fears about crime, traffic, depressed property values and tempting young children.

“We don’t want our community to suffer by allowing junkies near our homes, parks and streets,” Rajesh Karulsala wrote to the city. “The crime rate will definitely increase.”

In 2015, Livermore police raided and forced the closure of the city’s only dispensary, Ahmed’s Tree of Life.

Councilman Steven Spedowfski said he hasn’t decided how to vote yet, but he was taken by the depth of feeling among some that a dispensary would be a place where long-haired hippies hung around smoking pot. “It would be tightly regulated,” he said, “and not some fly by night operation ”.