Pot Club Close Worries Oakland

By JORDAN LITE Associated Press Writer

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) City officials declared the lack of pot a public health emergency following the closure of one of the largest medical marijuana clubs in California.

A 5-4 vote by the City Council on Tuesday night allows officials to develop alternative ways to sell marijuana to about 2,200 patients cut off from the drug at the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative, which was closed Monday by court order.

``We're definitely making history,'' said Jeff Jones, executive director of the club. ``It's another time the city has come out and allowed patients to keep their rights.''

California law allows use of marijuana for medical purposes under a proposition approved in 1996, but federal law forbids distribution of the substance.

Councilman John Russo voted for the measure despite his fear that Oakland ``will be portrayed as a place that wants to have a big hippie party.''

City officials in San Francisco and Berkeley in the past have declared medical emergencies to allow the distribution of intravenous needles to drug users to curb the spread of HIV. But no other city has passed a measure to allow use of marijuana for medical reasons.

It was not immediately clear what impact the gesture would have. City Council members said they would be wary of getting involved in the distribution of marijuana.

When U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer issued an injunction in May barring six Northern California clubs from distributing marijuana, Oakland city officials responded by designating marijuana club officials as city agents, invoking a federal law that protects state and local officers from liability while enforcing drug laws. But Breyer said the club was violating the drug law, not enforcing it.

A possible alternative would be to designate city property for the harvesting of marijuana by patients with doctor's recommendations, Jones said. He said a less likely possibility would be for the city to hire people to distribute the drug.

The club, about 60 percent of whose members have AIDS, closed Monday after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected its request to remain open during an appeal of a Breyer ruling last week ordering the club shut down.

``Marijuana allows me to sleep, allows me to eat,'' said Ken Estes, a quadriplegic who had purchased pot at the club. ``Without marijuana, I'd be dead,'' he said.

Copyright 1998 Associated Press. Republished without permission.

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