Some Peninsula Cities Fight to Keep Dispensaries Out

Two years after California legalized recreational marijuana, pot laws on the Peninsula remain a patchwork.

Earlier this month, Mountain View voted to allow four recreational marijuana dispensaries to open, while neighboring Los Altos voted to ban them. These contrasting decisions represent a broad regional struggle over how much to restrict the sale of recreational marijuana in the wake of Proposition 64.

On Tuesday, Nov. 6, Half Moon Bay, Santa Clara, and Daly City will also vote on whether or not to allow recreational dispensaries. At least five more cities, including San Francisco, will vote on a tax on marijuana sales.

In the meantime, Sacramento is considering a rule change that would render some of these decisions moot. If passed, it would allow recreational marijuana delivery across the state, regardless of any city-level bans.

Chris Diaz, city attorney for Los Altos, Milpitas, and Colma, said the Peninsula’s complicated policy landscape makes things difficult for marijuana entrepreneurs.

“The patchwork of regulations across cities creates questions for those who are looking to be in the business,” Diaz told SF Evergreen. “But at the same time, I think what cities value is local control.”

While 68 percent of Mountain View voters supported Prop. 64 in 2016, residents were less enthusiastic about having dispensaries in their neighborhood. At an Oct. 2 city council meeting, angry parents spoke out against the new ordinance to permit dispensaries.

Too Too Thomson, a stay-at-home mom, said four stores is too many for a city the size of Mountain View.

“We are a small city, I think at the very most we can digest one store,” she said.

Margaret Abe-Koga, one of two Mountain View city councilmembers to vote against the ordinance, said residents see Prop. 64 as a separate issue from that of having dispensaries in their town.

“The proposition talks about use, but it doesn’t say allowing stores in your community,” she added.

John Scarboro, a member of Mountain View’s Environmental Planning Commission, agreed. “If the question is ‘Do you think this should be decriminalized?’ [then] I think a lot of liberal and educated people would say yes,” he said. “But when you get into the details of ‘Well, how do you want to do this?’ … it’s not a cut-and-dry thing.”

Previously, Mountain View had a moratorium on all recreational marijuana businesses, though that didn’t stop people from getting marijuana in neighboring towns like San Jose.

“There are plenty of people in Mountain View, in every neighborhood, near every school, people who are productive moral citizens … who use marijuana,” Mayor Lenny Siegel said at the meeting. “If you don’t believe me, you’ve been living in a dream world.”

By next summer, Mountain View plans to start issuing permits to qualified recreational marijuana businesses: two brick-and-mortar shops and two delivery services.

Meanwhile, in Los Altos, the City Council voted 4-1 in favor of a “cannabis prohibition” that banned commercial marijuana businesses but lifted a ban on delivery services. Fifty-nine percent of Los Altos residents voted for Prop. 64. Nonetheless, City Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins described Los Altos as an “oasis” and said a dispensary didn’t belong in such a small, family-oriented town.

Sixty percent of respondents to an online survey circulated in May said they opposed allowing marijuana storefronts in Los Altos. The most popular reason for concern about marijuana retailers was “Illegal sales to those under 21.”

Ken Echert, a Los Altos resident, spent months worrying about what he thought was a skunk infestation in his backyard. He eventually realized that the odor was due to marijuana plants growing in his neighbor’s garden. He brought concerns about greenhouse cultivation to the city council.

Although Los Altos prohibits outdoor marijuana cultivation, state law says that all cities must permit indoor cultivation, including greenhouses. Since the Los Altos city council couldn’t ban greenhouses, they promised to investigate the possibility of classifying “offensive odors” as a public nuisance.

Of course, one set of inconsistent local policies restricting recreational marijuana — whether to allow delivery services — may be short-lived.   

On Oct. 19, California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) announced a regulation package that, if finalized, would allow marijuana delivery to any jurisdiction in the state. To become law, the regulation must first pass through public comment, however, and the League of California Cities and the California Police Chiefs Association oppose the rule.   

This regulation would override local marijuana prohibitions, such as those in cities like Milpitas and Monte Sereno that currently ban marijuana delivery.

In San Jose, marijuana business Elemental Wellness already gets 20 percent of its revenue from delivery sales.

“I call it the Amazon effect,” CEO Joe LoMonaco said.

“If a city has it, we of course try to adhere to their prohibition, but technically we can deliver wherever we want in the state of California,” he said.

For some, statewide delivery would be a strike against local autonomy. For others, it would be a step toward shrinking marijuana’s black market. Regardless of how this decision and others like it ultimately go, one thing is certain: The fight to make the promise of Prop. 64 a reality is far from over.