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Half Baked?

Oakland pot advocates hope to pass a resolution to legalize recreational marijuana by targeting East Bay soccer moms. And it might just work…


(page 3 of 4)


Motherly Concern

One person who is far from convinced marijuana should be legalized is Melissa Masland. The Lafayette resident is the mother of four children, ranging in age from 16 to 23. She is a regular volunteer in the Acalanes Union High School District and has chaired the committee that organizes Grad Night, an annual celebration for graduating students that schools put on, in part to keep graduates from drinking and driving after commencement. Masland, who says she is at the tail end of the baby boom generation, points out that not every boomer in Contra Costa County is smoking pot at social events. She has not seen anyone in her circle of friends sneaking away at parties to smoke a joint. “It sounds like high school,” Masland says. “I remember some of the boys would slip outside to smoke pot, and everybody knew it was going on, but I haven’t seen anything like that in years.”

Masland’s primary concern is that legalization will make marijuana more available than it already is to young people. She is still undecided and says she needs to learn a lot more about the issue before voting in November. She wants to know more about the practical application of the law: for example, does effective technology exist to test people suspected of driving under the influence of marijuana? She likes the idea of generating new taxes for schools, but she is uncertain about the trade-off. “There may be new revenue, but is it worth it?” she asks. “It’s my understanding that marijuana absolutely kills motivation, and as a parent, that’s the last thing you need. It’s hard enough to get kids motivated as it is.”

Mothers such as Melissa Masland may be dubious of Proposition 19, but Contra Costa County law enforcement officers have made their sentiments quite clear: They want nothing to do with marijuana, for medical purposes or otherwise. Both candidates for district attorney, criminal defense attorney Dan O’Malley and Deputy District Attorney Mark Peterson, are against Proposition 19. At a debate in May, both men said there is too much abuse of the medical marijuana laws for them to have any confidence in full legalization.

It’s widely known that doctors who specialize in issuing medical marijuana recommendations conduct the most cursory patient examinations, and only on rare occasions do they turn anyone down. Many dispensaries seem to encourage recreational use by advertising their various products with glossy photographs of glistening marijuana buds and scantily clad women entwined in tendrils of smoke. And the names of the various marijuana strains sold sound more Bob Marley than American Medical Association: Purple Urkle, Warlock, Green Crack, and Cat Piss seem more appropriate for music festival party favors than a medicinal remedy for the harsh effects of chemotherapy.
Peterson says the 1996 medical marijuana ballot measure was well intentioned but there have been unforeseen consequences. “Before anyone thinks about legalization, the medical marijuana situation needs to be fixed first,” he says. “It’s been bastardized, frankly. It’s absurd.”

Contra Costa County Sheriff Warren E. Rupf also says the public has been defrauded by Proposition 215. He opposes further legalization because he believes the health effects of marijuana have not been thoroughly studied. He is most concerned about studies that show marijuana use can harm brain development in young people, particularly young males. He adds that Proposition 19 also is flawed because it is in conflict with federal anti-marijuana laws. (Federal statutes supersede state laws; the Drug Enforcement Agency sometimes raided medical marijuana dispensaries during the Bush years, a practice the Obama administration has discontinued, as long as dispensaries are in compliance with state law.) “No matter what happens, no matter what side of the argument you’re on, reconciling state and federal law is critical,” Rupf says. “And I believe that if we are going to change our societal values in regard to marijuana use, we need more direction from medical professionals. They are the ones who should lead us to reconcile state and federal laws.”

Elected officials have also been staunchly anti-marijuana, making it a priority to see that no dispensaries operate in the central part of the county. A good example occurred in Walnut Creek earlier this year. City officials worked aggressively to shut down the C3 Collective, the only dispensary that has operated in the city.

According to the dispensary’s former owner, Brian Hyman, the city was unwelcoming and even hostile toward his business from the moment he opened. The city attorney’s office accused Hyman of violating a zoning ordinance and began fining him $500 a day for as long as he stayed open. Hyman, who did not divulge his intention to operate a medical marijuana dispensary when he applied for a permit with the city planning department, stayed open for business despite the fines, which ultimately topped $60,000. The city filed a lawsuit against the C3 Collective, and in February, Superior Court Judge Barry Baskin issued an injunction in the city’s favor. Embittered, Hyman finally closed his dispensary and left town.

Assistant City Attorney Bryan Wenter says the city filed the lawsuit simply because dispensaries were never an allowed land use, not to make a comment on the value of medical marijuana to patients. However, the Walnut Creek City Council quickly enacted a moratorium on dispensaries to ensure no others pop up.

Other Bay Area cities have had a different experience with medical marijuana. San Francisco, Berkeley, and San Jose have all established dispensary regulations that allowed businesses to operate and have been popular with residents.

But the city that has led the charge is Oakland. Oakland’s elected officials have worked closely with medical marijuana dispensary owners and growers since the passage of Proposition 215. As a result, Oakland has pioneered medical marijuana regulations, and the Oaksterdam district in the city’s downtown has become internationally known as the political citadel of the medical marijuana industry.


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