There’s a paradox in San Jose. While city zoning laws do not allow for marijuana dispensaries, dozens are currently operating in the city, and three-quarters of the voters in last week’s ballot supported Measure U, which would impose a tax of up to 10 percent on marijuana sales in the city. Then there are the police raids—three in the last week alone—against local dispensaries. This leaves legitimate medical marijuana users worried. Some of them, like Michael Gammino, say that they will go back to buying their pot on the street, to avoid trouble with the law. He may have no choice. Some of the largest dispensaries, such as Harborside Health Center, have shut down. A note on the door reads: “Recent police raids of San Jose collectives, with no intervention of the City Council, lead us to believe we are not welcome in this community.”
The confusion led some sixty medical marijuana activists and supporters to take up their complaints with City Council on Tuesday night, during the Council’s regular meeting. One of these was David Genovese, Executive Director of the San Jose Patients Group, which was raided by police. He said his employees were terrorized by police agents and left “quaking in their boots.” He demanded that the city put an end to the raids.
The response from City Council was largely sympathetic, though little could really be done. Mayor Chuck Reed explained to the group that the raids were conducted by county agents, not by the SJPD. “This is not something over which we have any authority or jurisdiction,” he said. Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio agreed, though he asked the City Manager to look into the allegations of abuse by the county’s Special Enforcement Team.
The county, however, is taking a different tack, claiming that the raids are justified because the dispensaries are not operating within the legal boundaries allowed to them. Team Commander Danielle Ayers said that she has received complaints of dispensaries selling to minors and even money laundering. “The problem is that they are making money, and they are hiding it,” she said. In an address to City Council, Genovese admitted that there are “shady operators,” But that should not be a stain on the other operators, who are acting within the law, he went on.
City Council plans to take up the issue of zoning for medical marijuana dispensaries next month. They will also be discussing what regulations to impose, in addition to statewide regulations, on the local dispensaries. On the other hand, there is no assurance yet that the Santa Clara County Special Enforcement Team will ease up on its raids any time soon.
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