Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - October 12, 2012

Ballot measure: Palo Alto sucked into statewide marijuana debate

City, marijuana advocates clash over whether legalized dispensaries are a 'humane' solution or a misguided one

by Gennady Sheyner

After wafting through Los Angeles, San Jose and Oakland, California's cloudy debate over marijuana law will drift into Palo Alto next month, when voters consider whether to allow three dispensaries to open shop in the city

But as the two campaigns over the Measure C make clear, the terms of the medical-marijuana debate have changed drastically since the sizzling and provocative this-is-your-brain-on-drugs days of the late 1980s. The arguments over dispensaries now focus less on the drug's effects or its possible status as a "gateway" drug (though these still pop up now and then) and more on land-use issues and the status of local, state and federal laws, which are all over the map on the subject. Recent and forthcoming court decisions add another layer of buzzkill to a Palo Alto resident looking for a little clarity in the voting booth.

Palo Alto's marijuana measure landed on the November ballot after a citizens' petition collected more than 4,800 signatures last year. The measure was spearheaded by Ronald Reagan adviser Thomas Gale Moore and Cassandra Chrones Moore, who argued in their notice of intent that legalizing marijuana is both the humane and economically sensible thing to do. The measure would establish a 4 percent tax on gross receipts from the dispensaries, which city officials estimate would bring in about $40,000 in annual revenues.

Peter Allen, spokesman for the Measure C campaign, said the Palo Alto measure was crafted after consideration of various other marijuana ordinances, including those recently adopted in Los Angeles and San Jose. The ordinance in San Jose was suspended last year after a coalition that included dispensary operators succeeded in pushing through a referendum that would have expanded the number of allowed dispensaries from 10 to 25 and modified some of the regulations in the original ordinance.

The San Jose City Council responded to the referendum by suspending the city's prior ordinance, though some dispensaries continue to operate in the city. Los Angeles has also gone back and forth on the topic of dispensaries, with the City Council ultimately deciding in July to ban them.

While Palo Alto voters have been generally sympathetic to legalizing marijuana, as evidenced by the majority vote to support Proposition 215 in 1996, the City Council has been fiercely opposing Measure C. Last month, the council voted unanimously to support a colleagues' memo from Mayor Yiaway Yeh, Vice Mayor Greg Scharff and Councilman Larry Klein formally opposing the measure.

The Palo Alto council is joined in its opposition to Measure C by a coalition of former mayors, including Gary Fazzino, Lanie Wheeler, Dena Mossar and Liz Kniss. The pro-Measure C campaign, meanwhile, has been relying on paid consultants to boost its chances. According to campaign-finance statements filed last week, the campaign is more than $76,000 in debt after spending $82,216 on campaign-related activities. This includes a $56,134 balance with the law firm DLA Piper, LLP, and the $13,500 the campaign had spent on polling services from the firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates.

The memo from Yeh, Scharff and Klein briefly mentions marijuana in connection to drug addiction (which, they write, "can lead to poor school performance, job loss and serious medical problem"), but focuses largely on the murky legal issues. The most significant of these is the contradiction between federal law, which bans marijuana, and state law, which allows it for medical purposes.

"The establishment and regulation of medical dispensaries has been the subject of extensive litigation, and there are several cases pending between the California Supreme Court relating to the cities' ability to permit, regulate or ban medical marijuana dispensaries," the memo states. "If the City issues permits for marijuana to be grown and sold within the City of Palo Alto, it is unclear what the legal ramifications of this could be."

In recent months, state courts have been considering three different cases centered on whether a city can ban marijuana without violating state law. A ruling on these is expected later this year or early next year, City Attorney Molly Stump said. On the flip side of the coin, the state Supreme Court had also considered a Long Beach case centering on whether a state can legalize and regulate marijuana without violating federal law. The state's highest court ultimately declined to issue a ruling on this issue, which essentially upheld a prior ruling from an appeals court. That court concluded that the Long Beach ordinance, by regulating the dispensaries, is effectively permitting them in violation of federal law.

The council has also found the legal argument more convincing than the traditional health argument in stressing its opposition to Measure C. Councilman Pat Burt and Councilwoman Gail Price both distanced themselves from the memo's characterization of marijuana's effects, though they agreed with the memo's other arguments for opposing Measure C and joined their colleagues in the vote. In a recent debate over the measure sponsored by the Midpeninsula Community Media Center, Klein painted the debate over the measure as one that should occur far beyond the local level.

"This is not about legalization of marijuana," Klein said. "If that was the issue, we need to have that done in a far more comprehensive way at the federal level, at the state level. It's not a Palo Alto issue by itself."

At the same time, city officials argue the measure's passage would have a significant local impact. Because surrounding cities all ban dispensaries, Palo Alto would become a magnet for pot-related activities. Scharff said allowing dispensaries would lead to increased enforcement activities and a flurry of complaints about pot smoking, harassment of passersby and smoking too close to schools. And even if the dispensaries prove disruptive, Scharff said, the city would be legally obligated to allow three permits.

"No matter how many problems these pot shops cause, the city will be required to continue to allow them to operate regardless of their impacts," Scharff said at the recent debate. "Measure C will bring the sale and cultivation of marijuana to our neighborhoods and our kids."

Proponents of the measure dismiss this argument as a scare tactic with no basis in truth. Allen noted in a recent interview with the Weekly that the ordinance severely restricts the locations where the dispensaries would be allowed. Specifically, they would be prohibited within 150 feet of any residential zone, within 600 feet of any school and within 500 feet of any public library, public park, day care center or substance-abuse rehabilitation center.

"What this will do is allow residents of Palo Alto the option of getting medicine locally instead of having to drive to San Francisco or San Jose," Allen told the Weekly. "I do not think it will have any ill effects in Palo Alto."

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by Maps Please, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 12, 2012 at 10:13 am

If the weekly really wants to do something useful on this measure, how about creating a map which shows which locations would be open to dispensaries under this measure? Given the ranges, its probably going to be a small number of locations.


Posted by Bruce, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 12, 2012 at 11:12 am

Pot shops are a bad idea which Los Angeles and San Jose are both trying to get away from.

Why go looking for trouble and putting City lawyers at odds with federal prosecutors? That will end up with the City footing a giant legal bill and pot shop operators laughing all the way to the bank.

Tim Gray favors pot shops; consequently, I do not favor Tim Gray.


Posted by Jan H., a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 12, 2012 at 12:23 pm

Having been to Amsterdam recently (my husband goes there regularly). I have to say that this pot dispensary thing is not a good idea. Even Amsterdam is thinking about getting rid of it, and for good reason: it has brought more crime, especially the violent variety, and mostly the tourist variety. Last year, Amstrdam changed its laws to prevent tourists from buying or using marijuana. A tourist can no longer go to a "coffee shop" there ( if you really want coffee or a drug-free snack, you go to a cafe). It has also brought in harder drugs: my husband witnessed a dealer being shot in the back of the head by a competitor or angry customer a couple of years ago.

Does anyone really want a dispensary in their neighborhood? Too many of the " medical" users simply have back,pain and have managed to find a doctor willing to,prescribe marijuana. This really cheats terminal cancer patients and other seriously ill people who have a legitimate need. It also attracts people feigning pain to procure the drug, as well as criminals attempting to loot the dispensary and who knows what else in a once-peaceful neighborhood.

Something like this is really going to ruin Palo Alto once and for all.


Posted by Jillian Galloway, a resident of another community
on Oct 12, 2012 at 2:09 pm

I keep reading about "legalizing marijuana for recreational use", but what it appears that they're really trying to do is legalize marijuana as a far safer alternative to alcohol.

According to the CDC, alcohol kills 80,000 people every year in the U.S. while marijuana kills none. And marijuana's addiction potential is about on par with coffee. Since marijuana is far safer and far less addictive than alcohol, we could GREATLY reduce the amount of harm and addiction in society by giving people the right to switch from the more harmful drug, alcohol, to the less harmful drug, marijuana. And that would be a good thing.

The only thing is though, people can't switch to marijuana if marijuana's illegal. That's where we come in - we have to tell *our* legislators to legalize marijuana like wine.


Posted by Jose, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 12, 2012 at 3:00 pm

Marijuana has never been legal in Amsterdam, so stop using it as an example of what happens when it is legal.

Sometimes I think that politicians are under the control of some parasite that is lodged in their brain. A major revolt is underway and freedom is being restored to this once great land.

Freedom has never been advertised as safe. If you don't like the idea of freedom, leave! get out now!


Posted by Timothy Gray, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 12, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Dear Bruce and others that have a concern about my answer to the Daily Post about my answer to the Daily Post:

I was asked how I would personally vote on the Medical Dispensing and I stated that I would vote for it. That is Citizen Gray who, having years of experience in the healthcare field, feels that providing a safe and well-controlled dispensary near a major cancer treatment campus is appropriate. To me, it is no different that the chemotherapy clinics that we have, as we are not talking about pot clubs where people hang out, but where chronically ill people with great pain go to get pharmacy dispensed medicine to ease their pain. We have pharmacies in various locations, and this can be a clinical setting just the same.

Both Bruce and Citizen Gray will have one vote at the polls. I stated my current feeling based on the principal that I side with compassion over fear as a spiritual belief. There is room for others Citizens to participate in the conversation and, once the votes are tallied, the will of the people will be heard.

Candidate Gray wants to stay focused on creating a financial balance for Palo Alto, and stand up for moderated progressive growth as allowed within out Comprehensive Plan -- not the numerous examples of excess that I feel threatens to destroy the character of our neighborhoods. Moderation is needed, and we need to respect the diversity of opinions on many different topics, and stay focused on the big-picture issues that impact our quality of life.

When all the Citizens' votes are tallied, then Councilman Gray and the other representatives will simply implement the will of the people as expressed in the ballot box. No more and no less.

I know how you feel in wanting to preserve our safe neighborhoods. I had the same concerns, until I learned that far from presenting any risk to my children, measures can be in place that would make it no more disruptive than someone traveling to Stanford to get chemotherapy. Voters have already expressed the will of the people to allow this very important remedy to unfathomable pain and suffering of people fighting for their life.

Should our community accept the Medical Dispensaries, we can trust Chief Dennis Burns and his department to implement world class community protection. I have great faith in Dennis Burns and the Palo Alto Police. Just as good laws govern the Walgreens pharmacy, so will good laws govern anything that is established in our town.

I offer complete respect for others who hold a contrary opinion. I offered my opinion, but my advocacy is for Balance in the City's Finances and balance in Palo Alto's growth. Our sky's are not for sale. Our parks are not for sale!

I plead with you to be tolerant of a diversity of personal opinions, and know that Candidate Gray will stay focused on doing the hard work to promote financial balance in City Operations. Candidate Gray will demonstrate absolute loyalty to the will of the people -- without regard to the tally of the votes of the individual citizens.

Thank you for having room in your heart for a personal opinion that may be contrary to how you feel. We can agree to disagree on some things. Thank you so much for your time in reading this.

Timothy Gray


Posted by Jan H., a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 12, 2012 at 6:43 pm

Marijuana IS legal in Amsterdam, but only for citizens now. The locals are considering making it illegal again. I was just there in May, and that is what my husband's Dutch clients told us.

I think Thomas Jefferson said it best: "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance."

Personally, I suspect a middle class revolt is brewing, and that a full-fledged revolution is less than twenty years away. We have lost too much and gained nothing economically, security-wise, and liberty-wise.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 12, 2012 at 7:42 pm

Tim Gray, thank you for your informative post. I don't particularly agree with you on the pot clubs issue, but I didn't find anything to fault you with in your explanation.


Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 12, 2012 at 8:43 pm


Any patient who needs THC can obtain a DEA/FDA legal prescription for Marinol

Drug users should be treated as a public health problem-not a criminal problem.

Dealers in drugs who gain a significant profit should face the death penalty-this death penalty should apply to MDs as well a drug gang dealers-because the major drug problem in the US involves prescription drugs


Posted by Jose, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 13, 2012 at 6:17 am

Marijuana is not legal in Amsterdam. It is tolerated, just like driving 5 miles per hour over the speed limit is tolerated.

The crime surrounding the "tolerated" marijuana in Amsterdam is caused by people from neighboring countries where it is not tolerated and Amsterdam supplies the source for smuggling.


Posted by dregstudios, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Oct 13, 2012 at 6:46 am

The War on Drugs failed $1 Trillion ago! This money could have been used for outreach programs to clean up the bad end of drug abuse by providing free HIV testing, free rehab, and clean needles. Harmless drugs like marijuana could be legalized to help boost our damaged economy. Cannabis can provide hemp for countless natural resources and the tax revenue from sales alone would pull every state in our country out of the red! Vote Teapot, PASS IT, and legalize it. Voice you opinion with the movement and read more on my artist's blog at Web Link


Posted by NearMiss, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 13, 2012 at 9:42 pm

@Tim Gray -- thank you for pointing out your position. I am glad I heard it before election day; I nearly voted for you. Now I will not.

Here is why: you are naive. Nobody really believes that the pot clubs have anything to do with compassion or medical need. I doubt the cancer center at Stanford prescribes it. (even if they did, this is about 1% of the pot club users. Read the back page of the Metro and you can get a sense of the customers for Pot Clubs)

This issue is entirely a sham for recreational marijuana usage. You either know this, and are lying, or you don't know it and are a fool.

One lost vote for Tim Gray.


Posted by Jan H., a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 14, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Marijuana is legal in Amsterdam, but only in one restricted area (near the red light district). One may not use marijuana outside of a "coffee shop".

As I said previously, I was just there in May, my husband goes there often and has a lot of Dutch clients. This is a topic of conversation that frequently comes up.





Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 14, 2012 at 8:22 pm

Is it irrational of me to somehow associate this issue with denizens of the hookah lounge on University and all the images of murder and arson and life sentences that it conjures up?


Posted by George, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 15, 2012 at 6:08 am

Jan H.--you are behind the times and providing false information about marijuana use in Holland.

Web Link

" New law to come in shortly in three provinces first including Maastricht and Eindhoven (covering other provinces including Amsterdam in 2012) only allowing registered members of clubs to go to the cannabis cafes, only Dutch residents who are at least 18 years of age can register but all foreigners will be banned including those from EU states"


Posted by Jan H., a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 15, 2012 at 5:23 pm

FYI: Holland is only one province in the Netherlands.


Posted by George, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 15, 2012 at 7:01 pm

Holland is used as a pars pro toto to refer to all of the Netherlands. It may not be liked but it is accepted. But what is your point, jan?


Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 15, 2012 at 7:05 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

@musical: since you asked, yes, your statement is irrational. Hookah lounges are for smoking flavored herbs or tobacco, not pot. That criminal matter was the case of one person of bad character, who happened to be the owner of the lounge. He could have just as easily been the owner of a book store, but we wouldn't ban books over it.

If you want to use the politics of fear, at least find yourself a legitimate related example. I'm sure one can find examples of bad things that happened around pot dispensaries, as well as bad things that happened because there were no nearby pot dispensaries.

I am neither advocating a "yes" nor a "no" vote. But to help people educate themselves on this issue, two related programs recently aired on KQED:

Talk of the Nation on October 12, "Feds To Debate Marijuana As Medicine" (transcript and audio at Web Link).

The California Report on the weekend of October 12-14 "A Fight for Marijuana Dispensaries in San Diego" (Web Link). The rest is a quote from the CA Report's broadcast:
---------------

Vey Linville has severe emphysema. He needs bottled oxygen to survive. When Linville was first diagnosed, doctors told him without a double lung transplant, he'd soon be dead. Linville got his affairs in order.

Then one day when he was searching on the Internet, he discovered a treatment for breathing problems that used to be widely prescribed in the 1800s, Tincture of cannabis. Linville found a recipe for it, and decided to make it himself.

"And I went out and joined one of the clubs, one of the dispensaries, and was able to buy approximately a quarter pound of concentrates, that I put in a small amount of alcohol, and consumed over about 10 weeks," Linville recalled. "And instead of dying as expected, here I am, six years later, doing better and better."

These days, Linville uses just a few drops of the tincture in his tea. But getting any amount of marijuana is difficult, because nearly all dispensaries in San Diego County have been closed.

Linville said that puts him in a tough spot.

"It's immoral to make me choose between suffocating and doing business with a drug dealer," Linville argued.


Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 15, 2012 at 7:29 pm

THC is available from your MD by prescription and from any pharmacy

It is the legal drug Marinol-which is FDA approved and tested.

Smoking anything damages your lungs, heart and health.

Pot heads want these federally illegal drug dealers so they can get stoned

Drug dealers want these stores so they can sell meth, cocaine and heroin outside to customers

These stores will bring reduced property values,violent crime and drug dealing to Palo Alto.

Any legitimate patient can get Marinol/THC from their MD

Why don't the pot heads address the fact that Marinol is a legal drug and has been for years?


Posted by George, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 15, 2012 at 8:01 pm

Sharon, please provide some proof regarding your claims about "potheads" & "drug dealers" in palo alto, because it sounds like a fantasy and/or fear tactics to me


Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 15, 2012 at 9:50 pm

@ Posted by George, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood, 1 hour ago

Talk with anyone from the LAPD, PAPD any Emergency room MD @ Stanford and LA or any recovering addict and they will tell you that these pot shops are collection point for drug dealers.

There are lots of pot heads in PA ,it is the kids we worry about-if adults want to damage their brains-fine-as long as they do not drive or work in-banking-security-medicine-law-pilots-police-teaching etc

If the pot head is a farmer without a tractor-fine-not many manual farmers in PA


Posted by george, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 15, 2012 at 11:24 pm

Sharon-I asked for proof.not more conjecture, hearsay and fear tactics.


Posted by Jan H., a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 16, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Yes, only residents over 18 in Amsterdam can use marijuana in restricted areas. It has not been available to foreigners for a while. They have considered doing away with allowing it at all, because of the nastier drugs and crime it has brought in

However, at a flea market across the canal from the "marijuana-legal" area, vendors were selling cannabis lollipops and other marijuana-laced treats.

BTW, people in the Netherlands do NOT like their entire country referred to as Holland. They feel it shows American ignorance, just as the Flemish do not like their language referred to as Dutch, even though the differences are very subtle.


Posted by HUTCH 7.62, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 20, 2012 at 8:33 am

I just love the direction Palo Alto is headed. Soon Obama will be showing up to Palo Alto not to receive money but to sue the city and bust the Cartel run pot clubs.

Medical MJ is a joke you can pay a doctor to give you a card for any bogus ailment you can conjure up. Have any of you been to one of these shops????? Most of the clientele are young and healthy. Not Cancer patients or people with serious illness.

Opening Pot shops in Palo Alto will only further the Agenda of these federal criminals in to creating normalcy and complacency so they can be left alone to make their millions from addicted Americans. The Marijuana industry is the new Tobacco industry.

Least we forget what it was like to have smokers blowing smoke in your face.


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