Mountain View City Council members unanimously agreed Tuesday night to put the brakes on marijuana retailers opening up in the city, approving a 45-day moratorium so city staff can draft local regulations on California's emerging pot industry.
Mountain View is among the few cities in Santa Clara County that have shown support for allowing the retail sale of cannabis under Proposition 64, better known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), including storefronts along commercial corridors like Castro Street, San Antonio Road and El Camino Real. At a Sept. 19 study session, a majority of council members said they supported regulating and zoning for pot businesses.
The ban that won the council's full favor at the Dec. 5 meeting wasn't an about-face decision, but instead an acknowledgment of what city staff called a "regulatory gap." The AUMA requires that the state set up the licensing and regulations for recreational sales of marijuana to begin on Jan. 1, 2018, and those rules would be the sole regulations on businesses in Mountain View absent any local regulations. City staff say it could take more than a year to fully develop land use policies and regulations above and beyond what the state requires.
While it may seem like the city had plenty of lead time to prepare local restrictions and land use changes to accommodate the AUMA -- which passed in November last year -- trying to build a regulatory framework that meshes with state regulations has been virtually impossible up until last month. New state legislation adopted last summer merged the medical marijuana framework with the newer standards for recreational pot businesses, prompting a feverish emergency rule-making process to develop regulations in time for licensing to begin in 2018. Those rules were finally released on Nov. 16.
While the City Council agreed to buy time for staff to sort out "key issues" including zoning, safety regulations and local taxes on marijuana -- and is expected to approve a one-year moratorium when the 45-day ban expires -- a majority of the council also supported allowing licensed marijuana retailers from outside of the city to legally deliver to Mountain View residents as soon as next month. The 5-2 vote, with council members Lisa Matichak and Margaret Abe-Koga opposed, asked staff to come back on Jan. 16 with an ordinance allowing the deliveries despite the moratorium.
Spearheading the move to allow deliveries was Councilman Chris Clark, who argued that a delivery service ban would be notoriously difficult to enforce and largely unnecessary if the businesses are licensed to operate by both the state and local jurisdictions. He said his support for the larger moratorium was contingent on whether deliveries are allowed into the city.
"What this would say is that if you got a state license ... and you got a local license from San Jose or perhaps another city that happens to put their rules and regulations in place before we do, you should be able to deliver to a customer in Mountain View," Clark said. "I don't see any issue with that."
Shielding deliveries from the temporary ban ran contrary to the staff recommendation as well as recommendations from the Mountain View Police Department. Police Chief Max Bosel said delivery drivers handling both drugs and cash present a complex challenge for law enforcement, and that adopting regulations beyond what the state is proposing would be in the best interest of the drivers.
"We do have experience with some medicinal deliveries here in town that have resulted in some violent robberies of the drivers who made those deliveries. So our primary concern is the safety of the drivers involved in these deliveries," Bosel said.
The city could adopt regulations similar to what San Jose adopted for medical marijuana deliveries, which includes some fairly onerous restrictions. The businesses and all of their delivery vehicles must be registered with the San Jose Police Department, marijuana has to be delivered in a secure container, and the vehicle has to be equipped with a GPS tracking system, according to a city staff report. Businesses also have to share "detailed delivery plans" with the police department, which Clark said seems a "little over the top."
Council members were also skeptical about how harmful the regulatory gap would be for deliveries in Mountain View, given that they are already occurring and will continue regardless of any temporary ban imposed by the city.
"Right now, any deliveries are illegal, and just because we pass an ordinance doesn't mean it won't exist," said Mayor Ken Rosenberg. "I'm confused as to why this is more problematic for staff."
Abe-Koga, on the other hand, said it's important to approve the full slate of retail marijuana regulations all at once at the end of next year, particularly once the city weighs its options for taxing pot sales. Generating revenue from the sales of marijuana was a big selling point for passing Proposition 64, she said, and the city needs to have some way to pay for any increases in public safety costs.
"We need to look at cost recovery at least, if not revenue generation," she said.
Council member Lenny Siegel also suggested that the city prioritize changes in land use policies that would allow delivery companies without a storefront to operate in Mountain View, likely in the industrial areas of the city, which he predicted would be less controversial for city residents and could be completed on an expedited schedule. The motion narrowly passed 4-3, with Abe-Koga, Matichak and Clark opposed, despite warnings by City Manager Dan Rich that the move could create a "duplicate" effort that delays the larger regulatory structure for retail marijuana.