Fred Gardner lives in Alameda.
Some 130 concerned residents spent two hours at the Mastick Senior Center last Sunday, Aug. 20. They discussed how Alameda should respond to California’s forthcoming regulations for production and distribution of marijuana. The new state regulations will take effect in January 2018.
Mayor Trish Herrera Spencer initiated the meeting. “There’s much more to discuss than we have time for at City Council meetings,” she said. Vice Mayor Malia Vella and Councilmembers Marilyn Ezzy-Ashcraft and Jim Oddie joined Spencer at the table. Oddie co-chaired the event.
Alamedans for Safe Cannabis Access (ASCA) rented the space and organized the meeting. The group provided not only bottled water and notepads, but T-shirts proclaiming “We are the 68% (Alameda voters in favor of cannabis legalization).” ASCA spokesperson Rich Moskowitz served as the master of ceremonies.
According to ASCA, its goal is to prioritize local ownership when the city grants licenses to cannabis-related businesses. Spencer indicated her support for this approach but her colleagues on the City Council expressed doubts about its legality.
Moskowitz asked for “a quick show of hands for how many people are in favor of several dispensaries?” It seemed as if every hand in the hall went up. Moskowitz reversed the question, “How many people would not like to see a dispensary on Park or Webster streets — or anywhere in Alameda?”
About a half-dozen hands went up. Moskowitz invited the naysayers to speak. A middle-aged woman began: “I smoked marijuana. I know what it does. It’s a drug. A mind-altering drug. It lowers your IQ.” That brought a loud, collective groan from those in the audience aware that the study proving lowered IQ has been discredited.
“Please be respectful,” Spencer admonished.
The naysayer finished with an expression of disgust for the smell of marijuana.
Among the pot proponents was Alyson Torsone, 34. She developed epilepsy after exposure to neurotoxins at the World Trade Center on 9/11. “We’re seeing amazing benefits on cancer, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.”
Torsone said cannabis changed her life. Drugs were not working; she decided not to be dumbed down by these drugs that were controlling her life. She began using cannabis. “And guess what? I’m seizure free,” she said to a round of applause.
Doug Korach, 65, introduced himself as a Navy veteran who had lost an arm in the Philippines in 1984. It was reattached by Navy surgeons but he lives in pain. For many years he was on heavy doses of opioids. “Thanks to cannabis, I have completely eliminated opioids from my life,” he said.
Several other speakers cited evidence that cannabis users can cut back or eliminate opiate use.
A question was posed: “Will Alameda have a non-refundable deposit during the application process?” Spencer asked for a show of hands from the audience, which included aspiring dispensary operators, who expressed overwhelming opposition to the idea.
At this expression of the popular will, Oddie said, “Whatever we decide to do as far as licensing, whether it’s dispensaries or manufacturing or cultivation, each of those permitting processes is going to have a cost to the city.”
Oddie said that there has to be a nexus between what the city charges and the service that the city provides — a fee structure that helps reimburse the city for the costs incurred to process these licenses. He said that Oakland expects to collect about $60,000 in city expenses from each cannabis business.
“Please understand that this is a matter that will be voted on by the full City Council after we’ve received our staff report, after we’ve held public comments,” said Ezzy-Ashcraft. “It’s not a matter of a show-of-hands and how many people here don’t want any fee. It is as my colleague Jim Oddie just said, it goes to reimbursing the city for its costs. The decision isn’t being made here. But it’s great to have input.”
“Don’t worry so much about city expenses. You’re going to make it back so big with taxes,” an audience member said. This brought on cynical laughter, with Oddie joining in. He said up front, “My bottom line is revenue for the city,” he said.
Before its summer break, the City Council directed city staff to provide an advisory report on Alameda’s legal options regarding cannabis production and distribution. The city is paying $60,000 to the SCI Consulting Group for doing aspects of the job which this correspondent has yet to ascertain.
The staff report is due today, Aug. 24, and will be discussed by the Council at its Sept. 5 meeting.
Fred Gardner lives in Alameda.