Pot a Burning Council Topic

Council considers coming of cannabis

It was standing room only Sept. 5 as the City Council held a “workshop” on the prospect of the cannabis industry coming to Alameda. The Council intends to come up with an ordinance regulating commercial production and distribution before Jan. 1, 2018, when California’s “legalization” laws kick in.

The city paid the SCI Consultancy Group $60,000 to draft an ordinance for the Council to customize. Neil Hall of SCI provided a 20-minute PowerPoint presentation on the history of the industry and the relevant laws. The city’s Community Development Director Deborah Potter told the Council that city staff had conducted a randomized telephone poll in which 600 Alamedans were asked their views on medical marijuana and 62 or 63 percent approved. Slightly lower, she noted, than the 68 percent of voters who supported statewide legalization in November 2016.

The City Council then heard from members of the public for three hours. Everybody had a sense of being a stakeholder, from the woman who had to leave the Island to obtain cannabis for her husband — “it was for palliative care!” she said — to the man who expressed concern about people driving loaded.

Some discussed the merits of medical marijuana in general terms instead of focusing in practical terms on the proposed ordinance. However, the ordinance Alameda adopts will ultimately reflect the five councilmembers’ underlying attitudes towards cannabis as medicine — especially its safety profile. And their individual inclinations were evident in the 90-minute discussion that followed the public input.

Only Mayor Trish Spencer seems fundamentally in favor of seeing cannabis in town. Councilmembers Marilyn Ezzy-Ashcraft and Frank Matarrese seem fundamentally against the idea. Councilmember Jim Oddie has said his main interest is generating revenue for the city. Vice-Mayor Malia Vella could be the swing vote on key aspects of the ordinance when the City Council resumes the discussion in November.

Why not October? The Council directed staff to provide answers to the numerous questions raised during the meeting that could affect the wording of the ordinance. City Manager Jill Keimach told the Council that providing those answers was too complex a task to be completed in a month.

Here is a sampling of some specific questions that city staff will likely address:

  • Will the City Council add inhalation by vaporizer — “vaping” — to Alameda’s current ban on smoking? 
  • Will delivery services make dispensaries unnecessary?  
  • Should the city place the new law on the slow track with a “phased roll out?” 
  • Should the city consider a “labor peace agreement” as called for by the California law, which mandates that businesses with more than 20 employees should be union shops.
  • Should 10 employees trigger this requirement in Alameda? 
  • Should the city allow three dispensaries with no caps on ancillary businesses such as cultivation, manufacture and analytic labs? 
  • Should the city enforce a 1,000-foot separation between cannabis-related businesses and places where children and teens congregate, like schools, parks and clubs? Will this enforcement overwhelm the police department? 
  • Should the phased rollout start with labs and manufacturing facilities with no retail at first? 
  • Will the cannabis industry generate tax revenues in excess of the expenses the city will incur? 

Some on the Council fear that any retail will probably entail hiring more police. Others think that priority should not go to local owners because the city wants the best proprietors with the most expertise. Each applicant should organize a town hall meeting to get feedback.

City staff will now work on preparing answers to these and other questions about cannabis and its future in Alameda. 

Although the City Council’s exercise in democracy is on hold until November, the public discussion regarding marijuana regulation resumes Wednesday, Sept. 20, when the Chamber of Commerce devotes a meeting to the subject at the College of Alameda, 4 to 7 p.m. The keynote speech by Assemblyman Rob Bonta will be on “Cannabis and Jobs.” The session is free and open to the public.



Fred Gardner lives in Alameda