When neighbors began noticing multiple cars frequenting a residence on Clara Drive in Palo Alto a year ago, they were suspicious that drug dealing might be taking place. The same visitors would arrive each day and then leave the residence each carrying satchels, a neighbor said.
But one day after the postman mistakenly put a letter for that house in a neighbor's mailbox, what was going on suddenly became clear: The letter was addressed to an operation called Peninsula Greens, which is a medical-marijuana delivery service.
The service is not causing a problem for the neighborhood in terms of noise or litter, but there is more traffic than was normal for the street, said the resident, who asked that her name not be published. Her real concern is over how easily kids are getting access to medical marijuana by using the cards of friends who are 18 and older, and she said she knows of several examples of this occurring.
On a recent morning, she produced packaging that was marked as being from a dispensary, minus the marijuana, which she said she found in the possession of a minor.
"I'm not anti-marijuana," she said, noting that she has voted in favor of legalizing medical marijuana. But she worries that having a delivery service in a residential neighborhood "fuels the supply" for under-age youth, she said.
The medical marijuana website weedmaps.com shows 10 medical-marijuana delivery services in Palo Alto, including one at Stanford. The map, however, does not list street addresses.
Clicking on each link, one finds a marijuana menu that one's grandmother could not have imagined in her 1960s and 70s wildest haze, with names like Girl Scout Cookies, Alien Inferno and Cherry Bomb, which offers a "coma dose." There are also edible S'mores bars, tinctures, topical butters, glazed pecans, watermelon Indica gummies and even marijuana-laced caramel corn.
The State of California licenses medical-marijuana dispensaries, but cities can ban their operation. Palo Alto has an ordinance prohibiting dispensaries. The legality of delivery services in Palo Alto, however, remains a gray area.
"The city has an ordinance providing that a marijuana dispensary is not a permitted use in any zone," City Attorney Molly Stump said in an email this week. "Until your email this morning, I wasn't aware that there is or may be a delivery service being operated out of Palo Alto. ... We will need to look into what's happening and how the existing rules may apply."
Dispensaries are generally thought of as stores. But does a delivery service, which is dispensing medical marijuana but does not receive clients at its door, qualify as a dispensary?
The city does limit the operation of businesses in residential zones.
"Certain small home-based activities are allowed (such as working as a self-employed book-keeper from your home), where there are no impacts inappropriate in a residential setting," Stump said.
It should be noted that delivering medical marijuana to Palo Alto is, in itself, not illegal.
"Palo Alto does not have a specific ordinance addressing marijuana-delivery services that are located elsewhere but that deliver to addresses in Palo Alto," Stump said.
When contacted this week, workers at Palo Alto's marijuana-delivery businesses declined to comment. One said the staff was too busy because it was "rush hour"; another, Silicon Valley Farms, said it doesn't comment on its activities. Patio Wellness said the company does not want to bring attention to its business. Calls and emails to the other delivery services listed on the website, including Peninsula Greens, were not returned.
The state is in the process of developing licensing standards, and at some point later in the year the city will consider whether additional local regulation of delivery and/or cultivation is appropriate for Palo Alto, Stump said.