Last Tuesday afternoon, the San Jose City Council did something it had never done before—it questioned and challenged the city manager’s staff on their approach to medical cannabis regulation.
Staff purports to be objective and “just following the law,” but they have a distinct bias against medical cannabis. It is strongly reminiscent of the narrow, restrictive, pro-drug-war view held by some in Southern California law enforcement. San Jose policy should not be based on the ideology of the likes of Los Angeles County District Attorney and failed candidate for Attorney General, Steve Cooley.
For four years, staff has said that medical cannabis collectives can only grow cannabis—they cannot distribute it in the storefront model prevalent and permitted throughout California. They’ve said that collectives can’t sell cannabis, should not be allowed to use cash transactions and can’t pay salaries and wages.
On Tuesday, councilmembers from all sides of the political spectrum challenged staff on all of these assertions and more. The council has finally realized that staff keeps bringing back the same old thing: a ban in the guise of regulations. Mayor Chuck Reed, based on his own research, actually had to correct staff’s misrepresentation of the availability of banking services to the cannabis industry.
Ironically, staff’s biased approach has only perpetuated confusion. A de facto ban would take us back to the underground market of no regulation, no transparency and no $6 million dollars a year in city tax revenue.
The mayor and most of the council want to find a balanced approach that protects our children and neighborhoods and assures safe convenient access to medical cannabis for patients. If they want to attain that goal, they need to make the following changes in the proposed ordinance:
1) Take a reasonable first step to control and regulate storefronts. The ordinance should be reality-based, integrated and consistent with what is working now. As the Mayor said: You never hear about the good collectives, only the few trouble-makers. Registration by itself will give operators something to lose.
2) Zoning and Proximities. Rather than over-focus on zoning and proximities, the city should worry about behavior, neighbor relations and best management practices. If a collective can’t maintain a professional presentation, then it should be treated as a nuisance and closed. (For that matter, neighbors should sue them in small claims court. They can contact me and I’ll help them put the case together for free—a service that the city attorney’s office should offer, since they don’t seem to enforce their own rules.)
The 150-foot, straight-line proximity prohibition to residences is a red herring. Proximity is not the issue; it’s behavior. Good-neighbor collectives, which improve rather than detract from their communities, are not an issue. That’s the whole purpose of commercial corridors and zones like commercial neighborhood (CN) and commercial pedestrian (CP). These areas make it possible for people to walk around their neighborhoods and get the goods and services they need and want—without cars and parking and pollution and paying for gas.
Industrial zones are working well, as are commercial zones. Keep collectives out of strictly residential zones and follow federal guidelines. They must be 1,000 feet away from schools and playgrounds.
3) Get rid of the buffer between collectives. As the mayor pointed out, and staff was forced to agree, this requirement knocks out most of the city’s viable parcels. The mayor noted that most complaints about collectives involve activity in the parking lots. He sensibly suggests that the best approach is to have clear regulations for enforcement and reasonable behavior standards in those parking lots. A buffer zone is irrational and eliminates most locations for no good reason.
4) Delete the cultivation regulations for now. For all the reasons several councilmembers noted Tuesday, San Jose should not require all cannabis to be grown in the city under high-intensity, artificial lights that consume electricity on an industrial scale. The existing state law—laissez faire though it maybe—allows patients to cultivate cannabis outdoors in Northern California sunlight, which provides excellent, low-cost organic medicine.
5) Allow salaries and wages. Amend the definition of “overhead expenses” to include salaries and wages—and all other reasonable start-up and operating expenses.
6) Allow cash transactions. Collectives often don’t have banking and credit card/ATM services, because banks feel threatened by the Feds.
7) Give landlords a break. Do not require disclosure of the use on leases so landlords are not intimidated.
8) Don’t require wasteful and pointless audits. Do not require onerous and expensive CPA audits on an annual basis. The city can inspect books and records to satisfy their monitoring needs.
9) Actually enforce tax compliance. Staff reports that of the city's 78 collectives, 13 are not tax compliant. The city manager and city attorney have done nothing about this in over two years. Shame on them. They should close those collectives first.
Here is my plan laid out in a side-by-side comparison with other proposals.
The Sensible San Jose (SSJ) initiative accomplishes every goal and satisfies all concerns. The council should pass it. People willing to learn more or sign our petition can come by HQ at 15 N. 2nd Street (at Santa Clara Avenue) any day between 10am and 10pm. Or check out our website for a list of collectives that have petitions on site.
James Anthony is the chair of Sensible San Jose, a group of concerned San Jose residents and medical cannabis activists striking a balance between public concerns and medical needs. More info and a petition to regulate medical cannabis in San Jose can be found on www. SensibleSanJose.org.