Growing marijuana outdoors would remain illegal in Palo Alto, even if California voters agree on Election Day to legitimize the practice elsewhere in the state, thanks to a ordinance that the City Council passed Monday night.
Proposition 64, which will be on the Nov. 8 ballot, would make recreational marijuana use legal throughout the state and allow anyone over 21 to cultivate up to six plants indoors. But the ordinance is mum on outdoor cultivation, a factor that prompted Palo Alto to consider the new regulation.
In approving the ordinance by a 7-1 vote, with Mayor Pat Burt dissenting and Councilman Tom DuBois absent, the council also agreed to set an expiration date for the ordinance (in 12 months) and to defer formal adoption until after Nov. 8, after the voters have spoken.
While Burt saw no reason to rush with adopting the new ordinance, others characterized the ban as a cautious move that would give the community time to figure out the best way to move ahead on the issue. And by choosing to pass a regular ordinance over an “emergency ordinance” (which would require eight votes, with the ordinance taking effect immediately after adoption), the council signaled that while the issue is worth further exploration, it isn't exactly urgent at this time.
“I do think it's important that we buy ourselves a little bit of time to figure out what the appropriate response is, should Proposition 64 pass,” Councilman Cory Wolbach said during the Monday discussion.
Vice Mayor Greg Scharff agreed and said he would like to see the city have an ordinance in place “that allows us to come back and look at the issue.”
Several public speakers objected to the action, characterizing it as nothing short of reefer madness, including City Council candidate John Fredrich.
Fredrich, a retired Gunn High School civics teacher, wondered why the issue is even being considered as an “emergency.” Since the Richard Nixon years, he said, America's war on drugs has been a “complete failure,” leading to narco-states in Colombia and Afghanistan.
Passing the ordinance before Election Day would only muddle the issue for voters, he said. Fredrich also noted that Prop. 64 already includes "provisions calling for outdoor marijuana plants to be in a locked area and not visible from the roadway.”
After hearing from the public, the council decided to move ahead with an ordinance banning outdoor cultivation. Based on Schmid's suggestion, the ordinance wouldn't come to the council for a “second reading” (a necessary step for a formal adoption) until after the election.
As the sole dissenter, Burt argued that the city should do more evaluation before it passes a new ordinance, including consultation with the Palo Alto Fire Department about the relative virtues and pitfalls of indoor versus outdoor cultivation.
“I think us looking at a permanent ordinance is fine, but I don't quite understand why we'd be moving on the particular permanent ordinance before us without having the input mentioned, including from the fire chief,” Burt said. “I'm not sure it's a good idea at all.”