In a community in which two-thirds of voters a year ago supported Proposition 64, legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, city officials are recommending a policy that prohibits even a single highly regulated retail dispensary from operating here.
The city has had a year to determine its approach to implementing the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, but like most cities it has delayed so long as to make it almost impossible to now craft zoning changes to accommodate retail cannabis sales before the state begins issuing permits of its own on Jan. 1. So in order to block the state from doing so, the city staff is recommending an ordinance prohibiting any local dispensaries, at least through next year.
Here is the essence of the recommended policy that the City Council will consider at its Oct. 30 meeting: Adult residents may grow up to six marijuana plants in their backyard (as long as the plants cannot be seen from the street and are behind a locked gate) and, as provided in state law, they may use it (smoke, eat or apply cannabis lotions) only in their home.
The only way Palo Altans will be able to purchase cannabis products, however, will be to order them and have them delivered to their home by a state-licensed delivery service or drive to Mountain View, the one Peninsula city thus far actually trying to implement the intent of Prop. 64 by allowing retail locations.
Prop. 64 gave cities the opportunity to ban or enact restrictions on outdoor cultivation, delivery services and commercial outlets, but they cannot prohibit growing up to six plants indoors or the consumption of cannabis in homes. (Until Jan. 1, it's legal to use marijuana in your own home, but you can only buy it legally with a medical marijuana card.)
No one has been able to articulate why, other than uncertainties about state regulations that will be issued within the next month, the city should not license one or more retail establishment to sell cannabis or products containing cannabis.
Mayor Greg Scharff, who acknowledges his personal views have evolved since he strongly opposed a local measure in 2012 that would have allowed up to three licensed medical marijuana dispensaries in the city, says Palo Altans should just plan on driving to Mountain View if they want to buy cannabis.
His view reflects a widespread hesitation by cities to adjust zoning laws to permit a limited number of retail establishments.
"Ban now and wait-and-see what happens" is the approach being urged by city attorneys and city managers across the state.
The approach originally recommended by the Palo Alto city attorney was to also ban residents from growing up to six outdoor plants, and we are pleased to see the change to allow this, given the impossibility of enforcement and the fact that many residents are already growing plants.
But for a community with a large baby boomer population who came of age partaking in then-illegal marijuana use and where teenagers can today obtain it more easily than their parents, we hope Palo Alto council members will respect the will of the voters and issue a small number of permits for retail locations in existing commercial districts within the city.
The days of arguing that such establishments might attract crime or undesirable elements, which we bought into five years ago when the medical marijuana dispensary issue was on the ballot, are over. Such problems have not materialized in California, and under the law cities can exercise substantial control over the number and operations of retail outlets, as well as charge a revenue-generating sales tax. Prop. 64 contains many safeguards and requirements for retail dispensaries, including secure storage requirements and placement away from schools, and cities can add more if they wish. Retail stores in Oregon and Colorado, where recreational use has been legalized, operate without problems.
Although there are many who now receive cannabis deliveries using an easily obtainable medical marijuana card, many more who would like to try lotions or edibles for therapeutic purposes have been discouraged by what seems like an illegitimate and abused medical marijuana system. Prop. 64 was intended to normalize cannabis as a product far less risky than many other forms of treatment or relaxation, and city governments should be facilitating that change, not resisting it.
We urge the City Council to enact a short-term, three-month ban on retail cannabis establishments to give the city staff enough time to return before the end of the year with the necessary zoning changes and restrictions to allow the permitting of up to three commercial dispensaries in Palo Alto.