Agriculture

Hollister City Council tables changes to cannabis ordinance

Mayor goes on the offensive as city staff explains how changes from medical to adult-use would benefit city and stop black market deliveries.
City Cannabis Affairs Manager Maria Mendez stood stoic as the mayor asked her several times if she had been approached by cannabis insiders. Photo by John Chadwell.
Mayor Ignacio Velazquez was critical that he was not consulted before the staff put proposed cannabis amendment on agenda. Photo by John Chadwell.
Councilman Marty Richman said while he does not favor adult-use sales at this time, he will give the public what it wants. Photo by John Chadwell.
HPD Officer Chris Wells said if local dispensaries could sell adult-use cannabis it would help stop illegal deliveries. Photo by John Chadwell.

Updated to clarify approval was for a medical cannabis dispensary.

What started out as a calm discussion between the Hollister City Council and staff on changes to the city’s cannabis ordinance abruptly turned confrontational when the mayor accused an employee of being influenced by cannabis insiders. The mayor complained of not being forewarned of the meeting topic and suggested it should be brought before the public again. Changes were tabled and will be revisited after 90 days.

The confrontation at the Jan. 22 meeting centered around changes to the ordinance that would replace the word “medical” with “adult,” eliminating any difference between the two markets. Police argued in favor of approving the change and said combining the two markets would make oversight simpler. There also was discussion about adult-use sales and non-storefront delivery licenses from two approved cannabis dispensaries. The changes would be in line with recent changes in state laws governing the plant.

The city’s Cannabis Affairs Manager Maria Mendez reminded the council that Hollister’s ordinance already allowed for adult-use sales between licensed businesses, but not retail sales beyond medical use. If they agreed to the amendment, it would eliminate the separation of the two markets, she said.

Hollister City Manager Bill Avera said there would be essentially no difference in how dispensaries will operate, be they medical or recreational cannabis sales, meaning there would be no additional requirements for recreational sales.

“One of the reasons we’re bringing this to you in this manner is San Juan Bautista just adopted their ordinance, which permits retail sales of adult-use within their jurisdiction,” Avera said. “We didn’t want to lose our customer base to San Juan Bautista.”

However, the San Juan Bautista City Council pulled approval of their ordinance at its own Jan. 22 special meeting, as ordinances can only be adopted at a regular meeting. San Juan’s ordinance is expected to return for adoption Feb. 19.

“We are not in the marijuana business,” Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez said in response to Avera. “We are in the public service business, so if San Juan wants to take all the customers they want all the more power to them. When I saw this on the agenda, I almost jumped off my couch. I cannot believe this is on here without one person calling me, any other council member to ask about bringing this topic back up.”

He directed questions at Mendez: “Did this just come up? Did lobbyists come and see you and say it’s time to change this. What brought this forward?”

Mendez explained the city’s cannabis committee, comprised of city employees, decided to recommend the changes because there is no difference now between how medical and recreational cannabis are regulated at the state level.

The mayor asked Mendez three times if lobbyists or someone in the cannabis industry approached her and she repeated the decision came from discussions within the cannabis committee.

Velazquez then said he had no issue with cannabis, but he only “wants to get it right by involving the public in the conversation.”

During public comment, cannabis consultant Elia Salinas set her sights on the mayor.

“In the beginning you were 150 percent for cannabis in Hollister,” Salinas said. “You were the one who wanted dispensaries downtown. You wanted Hollister to be the Napa of cannabis. Let’s just be honest. I believe you changed your mind because you got scared and started pandering for votes. No one has done anything behind anyone’s back, but don’t come up here and accuse your staff of some backdoor deals, which is totally disgusting.”

The mayor admitted that at first he thought cannabis could work in the community, but denied he ever said Hollister could be the Napa of cannabis. Velazquez said he was originally in favor of four dispensaries in town, but people in the industry suggested there be only two.

Avera tried to clarify to the council and public why the changes to the city’s regulations were being proposed.

“It is because it helps the police department regulate what’s going on in our community if we know who’s coming into our town making those deliveries,” he said. “If we have adult-use dispensaries, we can minimize the amount of illegal deliveries to your front door.”

Avera then asked Hollister Police Department Cannabis Safety Officer Chris Wells to comment. Wells concurred that illegal cannabis was being delivered into Hollister on a daily basis.

“We don’t have any licensed delivery services,” Wells said, adding that there have been traffic accidents involving the illegal deliveries resulting in marijuana being scattered across Highway 156. “None were in compliance with state law. They didn’t have their cannabis tested. They weren’t in child-proof containers.

“By allowing the dispensaries to operate, they have to comply with state law,” Wells continued. “There won’t be any additional enforcement fees or costs incurred by the city if we go from medicinal to adult-use. It’s the same store, the same amount of people, the same cop overseeing this, but we’re guaranteeing our people a safer avenue to get their cannabis. They’re not turning to black market deliveries when they can drive down the street to get what they want.”

 

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a BenitoLink reporter and an author. He has many years experience as a freelance photojournalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer who has worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and underwent graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John has worked as a script doctor and his own script, God's Club, was released as a motion picture in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime that are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: johnchadwell@benitolink.com.