It was the latest discussion on local implementation of Proposition 64, the 2016 measure passed by voters to legalize recreational marijuana in California. Under the state law, recreational marijuana was made legal at the start of 2018, but cities were encouraged to draft their own policies to regulate the local pot industry.
Mountain View is one of the few cities in Santa Clara County that has shown interest in rolling out local marijuana retail businesses, but it's something that city officials have approached with caution. In December, City Council members said that they needed more time to fully study the impacts. So they decided to implement a 45-day moratorium on recreational pot sales to give them more time to draft local regulations.
As the moratorium was revisited on Tuesday, Jan. 16, local lawmakers were asked to determine what kinds of marijuana businesses should be considered. Several public speakers urged the council not to hold up local recreational marijuana industry any longer by analyzing every possible impact.
Sean Kali-rai, a lobbyist for the cannabis industry, pointed to San Carlos. The Peninsula city had devoted considerable resources to studying marijuana cultivation and manufacturing facilities. But when San Carlos leaders finally approved their comprehensive laws, there were no businesses besides retail pot shops that were actually interested in opening up.
"This is just not the place where you want to grow farms or cultivation. You go to the Central Valley, or Stanislaus County or Humboldt to do that," Kali-rai said. "It would be a waste of energy on staff's part to study that."
For the most part, the City Council agreed. In Mountain View, the main interest is clearly on setting up retail sales of marijuana. The process should be much quicker if the city focused solely on drafting regulations for retail pot shops, said Councilman John McAlister.
Councilwomen Lisa Matichak and Margaret Abe-Koga disagreed, saying it didn't make sense to adopt regulations in a piecemeal fashion. Before deliveries or pot shops come to Mountain View, the city should first figure out how to tax the industry, Abe-Koga said.
"One of the arguments for allowing retail pot shots is that we can collect more revenues ... but we're going to let this through without figuring out that piece," she said. "If we're going to do this, we should do it right from the beginning."
This question was particularly vexing for marijuana delivery services. This would mean licensed pot shops from outside of Mountain View would be allowed to sell cannabis products in the city. Technically, deliveries are taxed at the point of origin, not the destination, explained City Attorney Jannie Quinn. Such business would also technically be required to get a city business license, which could be one way to levy local fees in the industry, according to city staff.
Twenty-nine U.S. states have legalized recreational or medicinal marijuana although it remains an illegal narcotic under federal law. The drug's uncertain legal status was made murkier last weeks when the Trump Administration signaled it could begin stepping up marijuana enforcement. On Thursday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he was rescinding a series of legal memos drafted by his Obama-appointed predecessor that shifted federal law enforcement away from state-sanctioned marijuana. It's still unclear whether this will result in any federal crackdowns.
The city will figure out marijuana fees and local rules for pot shops over the course of this year. As part of its approval, the council extended the moratorium on retail pot sales through the end of the year. In the coming months, city staffers say they will hold public meetings and conduct an online survey to gauge public opinion. The City Council is expected to convene a final meeting on licensing pot shops later this year.
Through the discussion, city leaders acknowledged that voters gave a clear mandate two years ago in support of recreational marijuana.
"We need to respond to the will of the voters," said Mayor Lenny Siegel. "There's people who'd like to operate within the law, and I want to provide them that opportunity."
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