By Steven Tavares.
The long road toward medical cannabis in San Leandro ended after the city council on Tuesday night unanimously approved a permit for Oakland-based Harborside to become the city’s first-ever dispensary. In addition to the approval, the council also voiced strong support for placing a tax on gross receipts of medical pot on the November 2016 ballot and fast-tracking permits for additional dispensaries down the road.
Although, councilmembers ultimately sided with a city staff report recommending Harborside primarily because of its experience and business plan, deliberations were momentarily overshadowed by a legal memo from lawyers representing a rival dispensary applicant with local ties to San Leandro’s business and political class, known as the Davis Street Wellness Center. The letter, hand-delivered to the city council on Tuesday, was critical of the city staff’s recommendation, but specifically highlighted Harborside founder Steve DeAngelo’s criminal history related to weed. The letter listed a 1978 drug charge in Virginia and another in 2001 in Maryland.
Several councilmembers hurriedly questioned San Leandro City Attorney Richard Pio Roda and Assistant City Manager Eric Engelbart, the city’s point-person on the dispensary issue, about the letter. However, in 2014, when the council issued guidelines for determining the operator of its first dispensary, said Engelbart, it purposefully excluded a focus on criminal history as it pertains to marijuana.
The letter also suggested legal ramifications for the city by issuing a permit to an operator currently under investigation by the state Department of Justice. In 2012, Harborside was raided and exposed to possible asset forfeiture. It’s a case that is still pending. San Leandro city staffers, however, do not believe the case will affect Harborside’s future operations in San Leandro.
The vitriol over the hard-fought dispensary permit was also exhibited during public comment when one speaker with ties to the Davis Street Wellness Center called DeAngelo, known nationally in the medical cannabis industry, a “convicted felon.”
“Would you start your business with a convicted felon?” asked Craig Bettencourt, a San Leandro investment banker connected to the Davis Street Wellness Center, but not officially, according to its president. “Is that the face you want to put out in front of your constituents?”
John Oram, the president and CEO of the Davis Street Wellness Center, said Bettencourt’s comments do not represent their opinion of DeAngelo. Oram said he apologized to Harborside representatives Tuesday night. DeAngelo did not attend the council meeting. “Business attacks are one thing,” said Oram, “but personal attacks are another.”