Legalized marijuana may be the law of the land, but outdoor cultivation of cannabis will remain illegal in Palo Alto for at least another year-and-a-half under a proposal that a City Council committee approved Tuesday night.
Citing a still-hazy legal landscape, the Policy and Services Committee voted 3-0, with Tom DuBois absent, to extend the city existing ban on outdoor cultivation, which is set to expire in November. The council adopted the ban last October, one week before California voters approved Proposition 64, also known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act.
In addition to making it legal for people ages 21 and older to smoke marijuana, the new law also allows residents to grow up to six plants indoors and possess up to 28.5 grams of marijuana in public. It also legalized commercial cultivation of marijuana, subject to a state-issued license and taxation. Prop. 64 requires the state to start issuing these licenses no later than Jan. 1, 2018.
To date, Palo Alto has taken a cautious approach when it comes to marijuana. In 1997, the council passed a law banning medical marijuana dispensaries. And in 2013, local voters rejected a measure that would have allowed up to three dispensaries to set up shop.
More recently, the council exercised their discretion in prohibiting outdoor cultivation of marijuana, which Prop. 64 allows cities to do. Now, they are considering which types of commercial activities the city should allow.
At the Tuesday discussion, members of the committee framed their decision to extend the ban on outdoor growth as a way to retain local control. Deputy City Attorney Timothy Shimizu told the committee that if the city does nothing, "commercial marijuana businesses can open and get a state-issued permit" starting Jan. 1.
City Manager James Keene said staff's inclination to extend the ban is driven by the Jan. 1 deadline, after which the city would "lose some of our authority," he said. He noted that any ordinance that the council adopts to restrict marijuana-related activities can always be revised at a later date, should the city choose to allow outdoor cultivation or commercial opportunities.
Committee Chair Cory Wolbach agreed with this approach, which would effectively retain status quo until the end of 2018.
"We shouldn't change the sunsetting ban to an indefinite ban on outdoor growing, but we ought to extend and maintain a sunset," Wolbach said. "Once the state law is cleared up, we can have a real discussion, understanding the context of state law."
His colleagues, Vice Mayor Liz Kniss and Councilwoman Lydia Kou, agreed and joined him for a 3-0 vote directing staff to draft an ordinance extending the ban on outdoor cultivation. The committee also reaffirmed the council's earlier direction not to ban medical marijuana delivery services.
Kniss called medical marijuana a "very important pain reliever for someone who is ill."
"Whether you put in into food or however you ingest it, there's almost no question that for many people it makes a huge difference," Kniss said. "I wouldn't want to prohibit that ability for us to have deliverance."