Marijuana dispensaries could sprout at up to three Palo Alto locations, if the City Council or voters were to approve an ordinance legalizing medical marijuana within city limits.
A citizens group has gathered more than enough signatures to put the issue on the city ballot, City Clerk Donna Grider told the Weekly. The success of the signature drive means the council must either adopt the proposed ordinance or bring it to the voters some time next year.
Initiative supporters argue in the petition that legalizing and taxing marijuana dispensaries would be both humane and financially lucrative. The proposed ordinance would "allow our neighbors, who are seriously or terminally ill, to legally and safely obtain marijuana near their home, if they have the approval of their physician," the petition states.
"Terminally ill patients, many of whom are elderly, are faced with a Hobson's choice of buying marijuana illegally or traveling many miles to a city that has a dispensary," the petition reads.
The drive is led by former Ronald Reagan adviser Thomas Gale Moore and Cassandra Chrones Moore, a policy analyst at the libertarian think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Under the proposed ordinance, operators of marijuana dispensaries would pay $10,000 for their permits and pay a 4 percent tax for every dollar of their gross receipts. The dispensaries would also have to pay $10,000 every year to have their permits renewed.
Proponents note in their petition that San Jose's medical-marijuana ordinance brought the city $290,000 in revenues in its first month and urge Palo Alto officials to pass a similar measure.
"We have a choice: capture these taxes for our city or continue to lose them to neighboring municipalities," the petition states. "The ordinance will tax marijuana sales and place the revenue in the city's general fund."
A May budget addendum from the San Jose deputy city manager estimated that San Jose would bring in nearly $4 million a year from marijuana taxes and fees.
Supporters of the new ordinance had collected 6,341 signatures, 4,859 of which were verified as valid, Grider said. That is far more than the 4,356 needed to place an item on the ballot.
If the council decides not to adopt the ordinance outright, it would have to decide whether to place it on the ballot in June or November 2012, City Attorney Molly Stump told the Weekly. Stump said her office is in the process of crafting a recommendation, which the council is tentatively scheduled to consider on Sept. 19. She declined to say whether staff favors adopting the ordinance or placing on the ballot.
Pot dispensaries have traditionally been a tough sell for Palo Alto's elected leaders. In 1997, the City Council responded to proposed cannabis club by swiftly and unanimously passing an ordinance outlawing such facilities in the city.
The current City Council, meanwhile, has been more ambivalent on the issue. Last October, the council briefly discussed Proposition 19, a state initiative that would have legalized and regulated marijuana sales, and agreed to not take a stance on it. While Gail Price advocated backing Proposition 19, which California voters weighed in on last November, and Karen Holman urged the city to discuss the initiative more thoroughly, other council members felt the issue is one of "personal choice." Councilman Larry Klein said the council should not spend time on the issue, a stance that the council majority quickly endorsed.
Peter Allen, a political strategist who is working with the campaign to allow the dispensaries, hopes things will be different this time around. Allen said the group chose Palo Alto as the potential site for new dispensaries because of the famously progressive values of its voters. Last year, more than half of the city's voters supported Proposition 19. The initiative ultimately lost, with 46.5 percent of the state's voters supporting it.
"We felt Palo Alto would be a jurisdiction that would be open to something like this," Allen said. "People in Palo Alto tend to support individual rights and have progressive values."
The proposed ordinance includes a host of provisions limiting the location and hours of operation for the new dispensaries. These facilities would not be allowed in residential areas or near schools, parks or daycare centers. Their hours of operation would be limited to between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m.
Each dispensary would have to operate as a not-for-profit basis and would be comprised of at least four employees, all of whom have to be at least 21 years old. The applicant must include a management member with at last 12 months of experience in a California marijuana cooperative or dispensary. No one under the age of 18 would be allowed into the facilities.
The dispensaries would also be required to keep registers of all employees and qualified patients, whose records would be sorted by identification numbers to protect their privacy.
Allen said his group hopes the council takes a stronger position this time around, approving the ordinance and saving the city the costs of holding an election.
"The City Council had instituted the ban without going to the voters," Allen said. "It would make sense for them to come full circle and adopt the ordinance outright."