Palo Alto voters left no doubt about their views on the legalization of recreational marijuana use when they went to the polls last November.
Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, received support from two-thirds (66 percent) of Palo Alto voters, the second largest margin among Santa Clara County cities (Mountain View was first with 68 percent) and well above the 56 percent statewide vote approving the measure.
Any candidate receiving 66 percent of the vote would be considered to have won by a landslide.
Yet the Palo Alto City Council's Policy and Services Committee voted 3-0 (Wolbach, Kou and Kniss) last week to endorse the city attorney's recommendation to adopt a local ordinance designed to at least temporarily pre-empt the state from issuing any licenses for commercial cannabis activities in Palo Alto.
If passed by the full City Council after its summer break, all commercial cannabis enterprises except delivery services would be prohibited, including retail sales, dispensaries, commercial cultivation and warehousing within the city limits. Under the proposed ordinance, the only exception would be state-licensed delivery services, which would be permitted to make deliveries of marijuana within the city limits.
Without such an ordinance, under Proposition 64 the state could begin issuing licenses for retail stores and other commercial cannabis activities starting on Jan. 1, 2018. (The City Council adopted a similar prohibition on medicinal marijuana dispensaries in 1997 after California voters legalized it with the passage of Proposition 215 in 1996. That ban remains in effect.)
While there is justifiable caution about relinquishing regulatory authority to the state on Jan. 1, the community's strong support of Proposition 64 should prompt the city to actively work to implement the law rather than block it and to resolve any concerns as soon as possible. Blocking the implementation of Proposition 64 simply because it can disrespects the clear wishes of the voters.
It is particularly inappropriate for the proposed city ordinance to prohibit the backyard cultivation of cannabis plants for personal use, as expressly permitted in Proposition 64. This provision has nothing to do with the impending state regulation of commercial activities and no justification is offered in the staff report except the illogical statement that "to avoid confusion and preserve local control, the committee may want to recommend that council add an express prohibition of all outdoor marijuana cultivation."
Last October, just a week before Proposition 64 passed, the council passed an emergency measure prohibiting outdoor cultivation. Since the right to grow up to six plants for personal use was to take effect immediately upon passage of the proposition, the city wanted to pre-empt the law, ban outdoor cultivation and defer until after the outcome of the election a discussion on the merits of allowing backyard plants.
Now, instead of allowing the ban to sunset as planned this November, the city staff proposed an indefinite ban on outdoor cultivation. To its credit, the council policy committee pushed back and is instead recommending a simple extension of the ban through 2018. Without saying so explicitly, the staff and committee are trying to make a distinction between growing six plants indoors, which the city has no legal power to control, and growing them in the backyard, which it is allowed to prohibit under Proposition 64.
We find no justification for this regulatory overreach. The council's responsibility should be to implement its provisions except where uncertainties or concerns exist over the state's impending regulatory scheme.
Under Proposition 64, indoor cultivation of six plants, possession of up to an ounce of dried cannabis flowers and 8 grams of concentrate by adults over 21 for recreational use in their own homes became immediately legal upon passage of the measure.
But in a Catch-22, all commercial activities, including the buying and selling of marijuana, do not to become legal until Jan. 1, 2018. As a result, it is currently legal for adults over 21 to consume cannabis and grow six plants in their home but illegal to buy it in any form (or grow it in their backyard.) Therefore plants or seeds must come in the form of gifts from medicinal cannabis users.
Palo Alto officials need to embrace the new law, not resist it. Residents should be able to grow six plants in their backyards instead of indoors if they wish without the city's interference, and city officials should focus their attention on successfully implementing the will of the voters rather than using legal strategies to block it.