HAYWARD — For those who want to see a medical marijuana dispensary in town — and proponents say there are thousands who do — the question of when is directly tied to the question of where.
A majority of the City Council told staff members to look at setting a policy regarding medical marijuana dispensaries at a priority-setting work session last week, during which more than a dozen speakers stressed the need for a local facility.
"There's been dissatisfaction a long time in the Hayward area," said Dale Gieringer of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "One of the original centers was here. There are a lot of people in Hayward who would want to have one again, and now there are at least a couple of promising dispensary managers with a good track record who would be interested."
Gieringer said that by adopting a model similar to the one Oakland uses, the city could limit the number of licenses and choose the best of many applicants. He said it would bring in tax revenue for the city, and possibly attract people to patronize other Hayward amenities.
But City Manager Greg Jones said finding a site for a dispensary is "ultimately the most difficult part."
"The community as a whole is going to have to accommodate this somewhere, and where is that?" he said. "What's the magic answer to that question? Even with very strict conditions, that's difficult to resolve."
Jones said the entire process is complicated. The shops that previously operated in Hayward did so under very strict conditions, and were shut down for not abiding.
"How much marijuana is kept on site, how much can be dispensed in a particular time period, do they have appropriate security to safeguard the marijuana and the people who come and go, those kinds of issues," Jones said.
A city policy would include such regulations, as well as restrictions on where a dispensary can operate.
While Jones had recommended not exploring options because the complex issue will require a lot of hours from an already-taxed staff, most of the council said it was time to take it up for consideration.
"It was never a matter of if, but when do we do it," Councilman Olden Henson said. "I think that time is now — it seems to be a hot issue."
Henson said that with a federal promise not to raid state-legal clubs, "the time is right to tackle the issue, and determine how and where clubs can open."
However, he cautioned that negative experiences the city has had with such clubs in the past — as well as those that "sneak in under the radar" — are detrimental to the process.
Mayor Mike Sweeney said those bad experiences, along with the questionable legal ground and neighborhood opposition, make it an issue that should remain shelved for the time being.
"If a neighborhood does not want (a dispensary), I'm not going to vote to force it onto them," he said. "The council was clear that we wouldn't do that up the road. ... If the council is saying to the community and to (dispensary supporters) that they are going to force a medical marijuana facility into a neighborhood that is not agreeable, they are not being fair or honest."
The City Council will take up the matter later this year.
Eric Kurhi covers Hayward. Contact him at 510-293-2473.