Friday, February 26, 2010

San Jose's Cannabis Gold Rush: Throwing L.A.'s Cautionary Tale to the Wind

If nothing else, Los Angeles' protracted struggle with cannabis clinic
regulation should serve as a warning to other cities in which medicinal
marijuana dispensaries wish to operate -- Better to lay down some strict
rules and regulations, even if they can be a bit onerous (like in San
Francisco), even if it means limiting the amount of clinics allowed
within city limits to, say, five (like in Oakland).

The alternative is at best messy: politicians will take years figuring
out what to do, and meanwhile something like 1,000 "clinics" will spring
up, spooking neighbors, irking law enforcement , and hurting the
movement (like in Los Angeles).

Hell hath no fury like a cautionary tale ignored, as officials in San
Jose are discovering. Pot clubs were nonexistent in northern
California's largest city a year ago, forcing patients to trek north to
Oakland or SF or south to Santa Cruz. Those bad old days are over, and a
Los Angeles-style cannabis gold rush has set in: anywhere from 30 to 45
clinics and delivery services are operating in San Jose, nobody seems to
know exactly how many, and few folks -- save the patients who no longer
have to drive an hour or more for their medicine, and maybe some
unsavory characters happy to unload a few pounds -- are thrilled with
the situation.

Steve DeAngelo is a marijuana activist and somewhat of a legalization
celebrity. He is also general manager of Oakland's Harborside
Collective. Harborside opened up a San Jose location in December, and
found it easy to do so: there's ample light industrial space formerly
occupied by failed tech firms to rent, and an eager market ready to buy.
But the Wild West atmosphere could do more harm than good, he warns.

"In LA, really inappropriate people operated dispensaries, and it
brought disrepute on the movement. That same thing is happening now (in
San Jose)," he said last week.

How'd it happen? In October, San Jose City Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio
suggested San Jose allow dispensaries within city limits and tax them.
All of a sudden, collectives -- who as coops do not need business
licenses -- started opening up, "sprouting like weeds," in the words of
the adroit San Jose Mercury News.

Even as Mayor Chuck Reed suggested last month that pot clubs aren't
necessary (cause you can grow pot in your South Bay backyard, according
to him) San Jose politicians have played pass the buck with the
marijuana question, pushing off any public discussion or decision to
March 30th. In the meantime, the city has issued cease & desist letters
to every collective it could find.

The more reputable clubs, like Harborside and the San Jose Cannabis
Buyers Collective, have organized and hired an "army of litigators" to
ensure continued operation, DeAngelo said -- and to be good citizens.
"We don't want to fight the city," he said, noting that taxed pot clubs
would help with the city's $100 million budget deficit. "We want to help
the city do the fiscally-responsible thing."

Since it's too late to do the politically-responsible thing. Hopefully
the next city, be it in California or elsewhere, will take notice.

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