East Palo Alto City Council considers marijuana regulations

Council directs staff on residential cultivation parameters, splits on commercial sales

Citing the city's long struggle with illegal drug sales and related crime, some East Palo Alto City Council members said on Tuesday night they would not favor lifting a ban on marijuana retail stores, while others supported allowing some sort of commercial operations.

Four council members, with Councilman Larry Moody absent, directed staff to return soon with a possible draft regulation on personal indoor marijuana growing, and to explore other retail and business uses, now that state law has made regulated sales and recreational use legal.

But the council's overall mood seemed unlikely to allow marijuana dispensaries or shops after the city's temporary ban runs out in November. Mayor Ruben Abrica and Councilwoman Donna Rutherford were unequivocally against allowing the sales; Vice Mayor Lisa Gauthier wanted to explore some options such as manufacturing and testing, while Councilman Carlos Romero said he supported allowing regulated retail sales and other commercial ventures.

For Rutherford and Abrica, the biggest issues are the impact on youth and the strain on police resources if marijuana shops are allowed to operate.

"I have a lot of concerns regarding the use of any kinds of drugs. East Palo Alto went through the drug phase years ago. I don't want to go back to the old drug days. Yes, this is legal now, but I think it's going to be a big problem for us," Rutherford said. "We may end up being the place where everyone comes to buy drugs. All money is not good money," she said, noting that East Palo Alto could be the default city for marijuana sales, if surrounding cities restrict sales in their communities.

Abrica concurred.

"I have to say this is one social movement I'd rather not involve our city full blast in. I think that it could impact our city in ways that are unforeseen, and that would trigger -- you know, revive -- issues," he said.

Abrica said he understood the medical use of cannabis and was sympathetic to anything that can relieve pain and suffering, but people who want to use marijuana can get it somewhere else. There isn't a Home Depot or an Ikea in every town, and there doesn't have to be a marijuana store in every locale either, he said.

Marijuana is an above-ground business now, but Abrica wants to wait and see.

"Let the experiment go on," he said. In a few years, the city might reassess the decision after it plays out elsewhere. "I rather not add additional burdens to the Police Department or to staff or to our community," he said.

Gauthier said she found the decision difficult. She doesn't want long lines of people outside a marijuana retail store, and retail sales might not stop unlicensed dealers from selling on the streets. But she also acknowledged the oppressive history of criminalization, which has incarcerated many residents of black and brown communities. She said she did not want to criminalize the community now.

Romero went further in defining the negative impact of drug laws.

"I think for far too long low-income communities, subordinated communities and communities of color have suffered under an oppressive drug-regulatory scheme in this country that has both abused, jailed and criminalized folks living in communities of color," he said.

He was inclined to explore allowing marijuana retail and other business uses, but he expressed concern that regulation and taxation of marijuana, which is allowed on a local level under state law, would be "a barrier for entry" for residents if costs were too high.

Staff suggested there should be regulation on residential cultivation from a health and safety perspective, including inspections to make sure people weren't exceeding state limits to six plants, checking for molds and complying with building codes related to electricity and structures. Those services come at a price, so the city could charge a registration or impact fee, staff said.

But Romero expressed concern that those fees might be too high, and they could make even personal cultivation too restrictive for people to afford to grow their own stash.

Gauthier asked staff to explore allowing other business opportunities other than retail sales, such as manufacturing and testing of marijuana products. Romero said the city might find a way to have a tax on marijuana sales and related businesses that would not be revenue generator, but it could be used to develop programs that would curb marijuana use among young people.

All of the council members said introducing marijuana to young people was their top concern, although they acknowledged that many people in the community have already been buying and using the drug. When the city had one medical marijuana dispensary -- an illegal one, as the city doesn't allow them to operate -- Romero said he heard from many young people that they got their marijuana from people who had purchased the weed at the dispensary. Hence, another concern about allowing marijuana stores.

Council members also expressed concern about security and the potential for robberies and burglaries of retail shops. Marijuana shops can't put their money in banks under federal law, police Chief Al Pardini said. He thinks police will see increased calls for levels of service related to marijuana crimes -- and traffic violations. Currently, California doesn't have a threshold for driving under the influence for marijuana, such as exists for blood-alcohol levels. Colorado has a law setting a legal limit of 5 milligrams per milliliter of blood, he said.

Staff told the council that time is of the essence to develop any ordinances. The council should consider regulations on personal use as soon as possible, City Attorney Rafael Alvarado said. Council members will have to weigh options related to what, if any, commercial marijuana operations they would allow by about September, he said, in advance of the temporary ban's November expiration.

Related content:

Palo Alto outlaws marijuana shops

Midpeninsula cities rush to prepare for new marijuana era


Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.


22 people like this
Posted by EPAMom
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 10, 2018 at 8:09 pm

Council members: please hold the line against promoting the (legal) drug trade in EPA. I agree with Councilwoman Rutherford. "All money is not good money!" WE already still have a drug problem in EPA. This is already and still the place other suburbanites come to buy drugs. The impact is not good! Even after legalization there are lots of gray areas, lots of unintended consequences. This is not the path to prosperity for EPA. Please DO NOT LIFT THE BAN! And don't weaken it either! Palo Alto is not going to allow dispensaries, so guess where those residents are going to go to supply themselves. Not Here!

4 people like this
Posted by Either way
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 11, 2018 at 6:08 am

Actually, I STOPPED going to EPA once it became legal. The non-blackmarket shops are a safe alternative, but if only the black market exists, well, expect all the ills associated with that to continue.

1 person likes this
Posted by Dan
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 11, 2018 at 7:41 am

Pot-supporters must be sleeping one off this morning. Cue the comments that voting for decriminalizing pot is the same as active endorsement of weed usage. It isn't. I do agree that the combination of legalization + regulation/taxation is likely to lead to a continuation of a thriving illegal black market.

8 people like this
Posted by DTN Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 11, 2018 at 2:15 pm

DTN Paul is a registered user.

I don’t blame East Palo Alto for not allowing marijuana retail sales after every other surrounding city did so. It makes sense.

That said, the people of California voted to allow recreational marijuana. The stodgy officials of cities like Palo Alto and their citizen enablers, allow irrational fear and bias to resist the will of the people.

3 people like this
Posted by Agreed Dan
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 11, 2018 at 2:19 pm

I think alcohol should be legal, but in my eyes the drunks who use it are a pox on our society, taking lives as well as destroying families. We just need to remind the alkys of that now and again to avoid the "Normalization" of its use.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 11, 2018 at 2:20 pm

Most people I know who voted Yes for recreational pot sales were doing so to collect tax money that could be spent on other things. I was never an endorsement that recreational pot was a good thing.

I think it has to be remembered that although many voters voted Yes, they were never endorsing the habit.

Government seems to be looking on the Yes vote as an endorsement to pot smoking. That I think is far from the truth.

9 people like this
Posted by Sensible4Now
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 11, 2018 at 3:30 pm

What strange comments. Not everyone who drinks is an "alky", and not everyone who has a puff of a marijuana cigarette is a junkie, in fact the majority of both groups are not. There are enormous differences between alcohol use and abuse and marijuana use and abuse and to equate the two is simply more of the kind of misinformation and fear our local leaders seem to like to manipulate us with.

I support the legalization of Marijuana, and even support stores, dispensaries or whatever they are supposed to be called in Palo Alto ... no big deal. It is legal, it is the growing will of the people all over the country and the decades long oppression of minorities through hypocrisy of law enforcement have never increased respect for the law.

However, I think given East Palo Alto's history with crime, violence and drugs this is a very good decision. East Palo Alto has good reason to be skeptical or to decide to wait. Palo Alto, not so much. There are plenty of places in Palo Alto that would be safe and not a problem for the sale of marijuana. It will happen eventually, and those who try to turn back the clock will be remembered.

6 people like this
Posted by Sylvia
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 11, 2018 at 4:35 pm

Only a matter of time before a company that has opened 100’s of dispensaries around the country (and has deep pockets) will take these cities to court.
On another matter, I hope our police department doesn’t waste their resources going after people who are growing more than 6 plants on their property.

3 people like this
Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 14, 2018 at 9:00 am

When alcohol sales were banned within two miles of Stanford, the border land now known as University Park was called "Whiskey Gulch" because it had the closest liquor stores. What now, "Mary Jane Way"?

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 15, 2018 at 11:21 am

Either Way - we don't want you here buying dope.

Like this comment
Posted by Thad
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 15, 2018 at 1:47 pm

Lower income EPA residents who can't afford the prices or the trip to the legal dispensaries in distant towns will either suffer or buy from illegal local sources. Who does this moral posturing help?

3 people like this
Posted by Juan
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 15, 2018 at 5:02 pm

Mountain View, Palo Alto, EPA and other small towns do not have the infrastructure necessary to handle medical marijuana sales. It's only a matter of time before organized gangsters and/or the DEA creates a massive public safety event at one of these places, and our small police depts are not equipped to handle it. Leave medical marijuana sales to San Jose and SF, it's not cumbersome to drive 30 minutes or bus 60 minutes once a month. Your need to save an hour to get wasted does not outweigh the safety of all your neighbors.

Also according to regulations, dispendaries cannot be located within 1000 feet of schools, day care, or parks. Is there even a location in EPA that fits these requirements? I doubt it.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Babka bakery to open Thursday in Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 6 comments | 4,989 views

Gobbledygook goings on in Palo Alto
By Diana Diamond | 5 comments | 2,236 views

Couples: Child Loss, "No U-Turn at Mercy Street"
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,655 views

A bad beginning makes a bad ending: City Council
By Douglas Moran | 4 comments | 1,508 views

Which Cocktail Has the Least Calories?
By Laura Stec | 12 comments | 1,443 views