Potential pot businesses in Mountain View have been left high and dry by the City Council, which delayed a scheduled lottery for a limited number of permits, and is keeping the applicants in the dark about their future.
Last year, the council voted to issue four licenses -- two for storefront retail shops and two to delivery services. The city received applications from 10 would-be cannabis business owners and scheduled a lottery to select the winners in March.
But progress on the issue slowed in 2019 after last November's election saw two pro-cannabis-business council members ousted. The new majority on the City Council has since voted to revisit the regulations and, city staff said, the application process is on hold.
Those recent delays have the cannabis industry "beside themselves," said lobbyist Sean Kali-rai with the Silicon Valley Cannabis Alliance. He says Mountain View hasn't informed the people who applied for cannabis licenses about their status and hasn't responded to questions about when the process could resume.
"The real problem here is the lack of information going forward," Kali-rai said. "There seems to be no urgency in getting this resolved."
Former Mountain View Mayor Lenny Siegel criticized the current council for putting off the lottery and keeping applicants in the dark.
"The delay is a problem because businesses have been investing on the chance that they might win the lottery and now they can't do business," Siegel said.
The city's Environmental Planning Commission will consider proposed amendments to the cannabis ordinance on Wednesday, April 24. The City Council will have its first reading of those changes on May 23. Meanwhile, the 10 applicants are still paying rent, waiting and hoping to be awarded a license.
Councilman Lucas Ramirez, who voted with the council majority to reconsider the law, defended his decision.
"I believe the reason a majority of the council wanted to revisit this is because we were hearing legitimate concerns from the community about the clustering of businesses downtown," Ramirez said. "I voted against an outright ban. But I voted to have a discussion about what kind of buffers are appropriate based on those concerns."
With the future of legal cannabis sales in Mountain View hanging in the balance, a Bay Area assemblyman recently proposed a bill to force California cities to issue retail licenses if a majority of its voters opted to legalize recreational marijuana when it was on the 2016 ballot.
Council critics say reconsidering the decision to halt the permit process is a brazen attempt to discourage or prevent cannabis businesses from locating in Mountain View.
And that's where Assembly Bill 1356 comes in.
Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, authored a bill that could require Mountain View and other cities to start issuing licenses. It proposes that cities in which a majority of voters supported legalization must issue one cannabis business license for every four licenses they issue to businesses that serve liquor. In 2016, nearly 68 % of Mountain View residents voted for legalization.
Ting says local governments that stall on legalization subvert the will of the voters and put the legal marijuana market at risk.
"Californians voted to replace the illicit market with a legal system," Ting said.
But that can only happen "if enough licenses are granted to meet existing demand," he said. "This bill will ensure the legal market can succeed."
Kali-rai says the bill should serve as a wake-up call to local governments, and a warning that if they fail to "implement good public policy, the state will take over."
"Cities like Mountain View up and down the Peninsula should be acutely aware of the consequences of this Assembly bill," he said.
Mountain View Mayor Lisa Matichak says Sacramento lawmakers ought to leave these kinds of decisions to local officials.
"I have concerns with any proposed legislation that takes away local control," Matichak said. "There are many differences between the cities in California, making a one-size-fits-all approach to any proposed legislation problematic."
Siegel, who was on the City Council when voters passed the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, said he also favors local control.
"I believe Mountain View residents by a strong majority support cannabis businesses in town, but I would prefer that those decisions be made locally," Siegel said.
The proposed bill will have its first hearing before the Assembly's Business and Professions Committee on April 23. If it were to pass the state Legislature and be signed by the governor, the bill would allow cities to opt out of the 1-to-4 ratio requirement if they ask voters to consider local prohibition on the 2020 ballot.