Preparing for pot legalization

Chico’s City Council needs to prepare for recreational marijuana

Numerous initiatives to legalize recreational marijuana in California are now ready for their proponents to begin gathering signatures, signaling the start of a race to make it on the 2016 general election ballot. If what’s happened in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington is any indication of where the Golden State is headed, we expect to see a proliferation of pot shops opening up around the state come January 2017.

The writing is on the wall, as evidenced by the trio of medical-marijuana-related bills recently signed by Gov. Brown. They call for, among other things, a framework for regulating a cash crop that has been caught up in the morass created back in the ’90s with the passage of Proposition 215, the state’s so-called Compassionate Use Act of 1996 (see Associate Editor Meredith J. Cooper’s report on page 8). Prop. 215 was designed to give those with medical issues a legal defense for using the schedule 1 drug, but the nebulous law has been most successful at enriching the black market.

Its exploitation by for-profit growers has led to a booming underground industry and a multitude of unintended consequences, including environmental degradation and violent crime.

In 2012, legalization was defeated narrowly in the general election. But given myriad factors—financial resources wasted on prosecution in a failed war on drugs, overcrowded prisons and jails, increasing acceptance of the medicinal benefits of cannabis, other states reaping revenues from the drug’s sale—we’re fairly certain voters will end marijuana prohibition next November.

The question for leaders of local municipalities and counties is whether they’ll be prepared for legalization. At its next meeting, the Chico City Council will consider a citizen’s request to agendize discussion of local marijuana dispensaries. Currently, there are numerous medical-cannabis delivery services, but no brick-and-mortar shops.

Back in 2011, the council voted to adopt a dispensary ordinance, but then repealed it a month later under the threat of prosecution by the federal government. Much has changed since that time, however, including the establishment of a federal hands-off policy regarding states codifying their own laws regulating the herb. The recent passage of state legislation allowing for the sale—and taxation—of medical marijuana makes it an even bigger no-brainer.

This newspaper has long advocated for the legalization of marijuana for adults. That’s because prohibition has served only to prop up the black market. So long as it’s illegal, the profit motive will stay intact. Moreover, people who want to use cannabis will find a way to get it. We think it would be much better—safer and more cost-effective—for the public to be able to purchase marijuana as they would alcohol or tobacco.

Local discussions on establishing an ordinance related to dispensaries are long overdue. There are benefits to the city in the way of generating permitting fees and sales tax, and the longer the council waits to take up this issue, the greater chance it will have to play catch-up and run into problems.

Dispensaries make sense, not only in terms of profit to the city but also in safe access to a medicine that now, for those who don’t grow, is purchased mostly on the black market or out of town. Plus, those who buy it know what they’re getting at a dispensary, many of which label their goods according to potency and can verify the lack of contaminants like mold or pesticides.

Considering the state’s three new medical-cannabis laws and the potential for outright legalization, this is an issue city leaders should not ignore. We urge them to start the discussion sooner than later.