Green, With Envy

Alameda cannabis groups are fighting industry heavyweights —and each other.


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Evidence of animosity between Golden’s group and the mayor surfaced in late June when she ripped the group on Facebook for failing to attend a June 20 council meeting that was scheduled to include a discussion on cannabis—although the council took no action on the subject that night. At numerous previous council meetings, Golden’s group had waited all night to speak about cannabis but to no avail. In the early morning hours after the June 20 meeting, Spencer called Golden to express dissatisfaction with the group, Golden said. “I’ve never got a 2 a.m. call from any elected official, ever,” she said. Spencer subsequently left the group and joined Alameda for Safe Cannabis Access, which is composed of former Alameda Island Cannabis Community members and led by Moskowitz.

Golden said Spencer’s defection divided and undercuts both groups’ aim for local preference in Alameda. And while the groups insist there is no rivalry between them, Golden has accused Alameda for Safe Cannabis Access of plagiarizing her work and co-opting her original message for local preference. “That was my idea, and they took it,” she said.

Councilmember Malia Vella, however, questioned whether giving preferences to Alameda residents was fair. She said an applicant who has a record for participating in the community and has garnered support from other groups may be even more worthy than someone who merely lives on the Island. “That really hits to the heart of whether you are a part of our community,” Vella said.

But Vella’s questions about residency quickly earned her the ire of Alameda for Safe Cannabis Access members. “To me, it looks like you have no faith in who you represent,” Moskowitz said. “You’re my elected official, you should be championing me. Are you championing someone else?”

Both local groups appear to be advocating for the city to quickly legalize cannabis sales on the Island and to create a regulatory framework. Alameda currently bans dispensaries, but the city must decide by Jan. 1 whether to lift its ban or allow legal cannabis businesses to operate. If it fails to take action, the state would have the legal authority to begin issuing licenses to cannabis businesses starting next year in Alameda.

The council appears determined to permit cannabis businesses in the next year, but which types it will allow—dispensaries, manufacturing, testing laboratories—and how many permits will be available are open questions. A majority of Alameda councilmembers seem to favor a more deliberative approach than activists desire. “I think we need to start small and incrementally,” said Councilmember Frank Matarrese, during a council meeting on Sept. 5. “My biggest concern is location. It’s not really my personal concern—it’s people who get noticed about a conditional land-use permit in their neighborhood. That’s when the theory of legalization becomes the reality. Do you want it in your neighborhood?”

Vella also urged for a more complete buy-in from the public, even though nearly 68 percent of Alameda voters last year supported state legalization of cannabis. In addition, a city survey in spring showed similar results. “I think we’re better if we get everyone on board,” she said.

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