Instead of taking a vote on the proposed medical marijuana ordinance at the Sept. 19 Hollister City Council meeting, the three council members present (Victor Gomez and Raymond Friend were absent), along with Mayor Ignacio Velazquez, decided to put off a decision to Nov. 21, after the upcoming general election. The move, in essence, took the pressure off the council to make a decision and placed it squarely on the shoulders of California’s citizens whether to make the state the fourth in the country to legalize recreational pot cultivation, distribution and sales.
Before the decision was made, Councilman Karson Klauer set the agenda, whether it was planned or not, when he resigned from the medical marijuana ad hoc committee. The position was immediately filled as the mayor nominated himself to carry on with more research, which foreshadowed what was to come later in the meeting.
After Velazquez’s announcement that any further action regarding the ordinance should be postponed until after the November election, several members of the public opted to speak on the subject one more time.
Steve Becerra took the opportunity to thank Klauer for his work on the ad hoc committee, and said he hoped that the committee would postpone the vote. He went on to say that even though Klauer had said earlier that residents in his district were overwhelmingly against the cultivation, distribution and sale of medical marijuana, he recognized that there were those in the community who needed it and should be able to obtain it in a safe manner.
“I think it’s also important to embrace law enforcement’s opinion on this, as I’ve seen at some of these dispensaries in San Jose that security is a big issue,” Becerra said. “I’d also encourage you to reach out to the board of supervisors to come up with something that is well-balanced for our entire county.”
Becerra said he believed that even if Proposition 64 passes and legalizes recreational use, a majority of those who live in the city will still not be in favor of marijuana use.
In thanking Klauer for his work on the ad hoc committee, Tim Burns, who is running for the council seat being vacated by Gomez, said Klauer had been treated unfairly and received criticism that was both untrue and mean-spirited. He went on to say he thought it wise to continue discussions until Nov. 21, then wondered why the council had not chosen to put the ordinance up for a vote by the people.
“If this city chooses to move forward, there’s a problem in that there is no tax tied to it,” Burns said. “I’d encourage you to do what Monterey County is doing by tying it to a tax beyond a permit process. I can tell you those dollars will not cover the costs of putting this forward. Any ordinance that would be approved should be in conjunction with or immediately after a taxing mechanism is put in place. The reality is, if you put the ordinance in place, people are going to expect you to enforce it, and if you don’t have the resources to do it—and I don’t think you do—that is problematic for city government, but for those who it is forced on.
To lay groundwork for his favorable opinion of marijuana’s revenue-generating potential, former Hollister City Councilman Tony Lobue ticked off a long history of bungled opportunities, dating back to the 1850s, including up to an outlet shopping center, the annual motorcycle rally and air show.
“Call me greedy or an opportunist, but I think this is an opportunity for us to generate a large amount of money that can help us with our fire protection, police protection, and our roads,” he said. “We can tax this, make some money and have a better way of life not only for the people who are suffering, but our community as a whole.”
Lobue was applauded, but Velazquez cautioned the public to restrain themselves to avoid getting into “who’s right/who’s wrong” situation.
Hollister resident Marty Richman said it was important for the council to know that the county board of supervisors had decided on a moratorium on all marijuana discussion until Oct. 11 because it made a mistake.
“They opened the door that wide,” he said as he indicated a couple inches with his fingers, “and 5,000 people walked through it. We have people coming up to the podium saying, ‘the guy who lives next to me has 1,200 plants on his little plot of land that are as big as trees and he says they’re medical marijuana and he can produce the cards (lists of patients) to prove it.’”
Richman described the perceived dilemma the county has found itself in of having to consider the rights of current growers, and the possibility of having to wait until they’ve harvested this year’s crop before moving forward with any sort of ordinance.
“Whatever you do,” he cautioned, “you need to get the controls, and the funding for them, in place first. The people who want this will encourage you to this (ordinance) into effect then talk about controls later. If you don’t have them in, you’re going to wind up like the county. Everybody’s going to run in here for the opportunity to make some money and they’re going into the business whether they have a permit or not and when you go after them they’re going to ask for forgiveness, and you’re going to have it everywhere.”
Stephanie Smith agreed that it was important for medical marijuana to be provided to those in need of it, but said she does not believe there is a large enough market in the city to warrant a dispensary, and delivery options from outside the area should be considered. She cautioned about having marijuana processing operations, which she said have proven to be fire hazards.
Before voting, Councilwoman Mickie Luna commented that she appreciated the public coming forward to voice their opinions. She said that while she understands the plight of those who need medical marijuana, she is concerned about the abuse of medical marijuana cards. She said the ultimate decision the council makes has to be a responsible position because it will impact everyone in the community.
Velazquez addressed the earlier comment about why the city is not placing the ordinance on the ballot.
“I’m glad we didn’t,” he said. “I’m learning so much about this, I think it would be a big mistake for us to do this too early. This is a complicated issue and I understand exactly why Councilman Klauer decided not to stay any longer. It takes time. Government is complicated because we don’t want to rush into anything. By moving this to Nov. 21, we will have a better idea what the public is thinking.”