COUNCIL NOT INTERESTED IN STUDYING THE ISSUE THIS YEAR
By STEVEN TAVARES
The CitizenHayward City Councilman Bill Quirk gave an impassioned speech on behalf of medical marijuana, but it did not come close to swaying his colleagues. The council was not debating whether to allow the return of medical marijuana dispensaries to the city, merely to direct staff to study the issue as one of the city's priorities for the year.
After a public comment period lasting over an hour, Quirk failed to conjure up a second to his motion in support of exploring medical marijuana after a fiery lecture to the city staff for failing to act on three previous directions by the council and the failure of the federal government to act on the topic that is slowly gaining acceptance in the state. Quirk also rebutted numerous claims Tuesday night by law enforcement who say the dispensaries are a magnet for crime.
"My house has been robbed twice since I've been on the city council. Do you want me to run out of town?" said Quirk. "We have murders at Southland Mall. We have bank robberies. Do we want to close all of those because there are ocassional problems?"
Quirk pointedly called the federal government's stance on medical marijuana "stupid" and urging municipalities like Hayward to led the way. "It will be years until we see them do anything about medical marijuana or anything else, so we have to take responsibility at a local level," said Quirk.
Councilmember Barbara Halliday and Olden Henson both articulated support for the benefits of medical marijuana, but hesitated to support the issue as a priority for the city. Councilman Francisco Zermeno told the large gathering at city hall he believes medical marijuana belongs in hospitals and not storefronts. "In our minds we see it now as a marijuana store and it would be downtown and it is something I would never want," said Zermeno. "I would want it in a medical facility because it is a medical issue."
Councilmembers may have been cautious to support the issue after the Hayward Police Officers Association (HPOA) said they would not support the reintroduction of the dispensaries because it will further tax an already strained police force with more crime.
HPOA President Mike Sorensen, citing an uptick in crime at the city's two previous pot clubs on Foothill Boulevard, said a return of the businesses would "In turn jeopardize the safety of local businesses, visitors and the community at large." Numerous police officers expressed a litany of crimes in the area, they say, was due to the attraction of criminal elements to the clubs.
Dale Gieringer, one of the co-authors of the landmark Proposition 215 that legalized medical marijuana in California, said many in law enforcement are stoking old fears regarding the use of marijuana. "There is a certain old-school element with fears about this that are the typical fears but I think they are projecting their experience with the illegal marijuana market to the legal marijuana market," said Gieringer.
Despite Hayward's decision to sit out a burgeoning issue that gained steam last year when U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the federal government would not crack down on pot clubs. In the past month, supporters of legalizing marijuana in the state succeeded in placing a ballot initiative on the November ballot. Gieringer said he believes many concerns described at Tuesday's hearing stem from the issue currently lying in limbo between acceptance and its criminal past.
"The problem is there hasn't been an 100 percent transition from the illegal market to a legal market. We're about halfway there and you still have a problem," said Gieringer. "For example, the supply system is still pretty much underground. Banks won't deal with it, so there's a lot of cash around and that adds to concerns we shouldn't have in a legal system. We're evolving towards that, but people are caught in between at the moment."
Nevertheless, the stigma of marijuana is still pervasive and a difficult political issue to skate around. Hayward resident Jack Horner, who is highly visible in community outreach, admonished the council for spending time on the issue when the city is struggling to prosper. "Pot shops are a deceitful pretense that will bring all sorts of problems to our city," said Horner. "No amount of conditions on the use permit will change that. No amount of income to our city through taxes will justify the strain that it will put on our already strained resources."
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