The Hollister City Council heard a report May 13 from cannabis affairs manager Maria Mendez on proposed changes to rules and regulations of the city’s cannabis ordinance to permit the sale and delivery of recreational cannabis. The changes would effectively negate the need to sell medical cannabis, other than to 18- to 20-year-olds who must obtain a medical card to purchase it. Individuals must be at least 21 to purchase recreational cannabis.
City Manager Bill Avera told Benitolink that the ordinance will most likely return to the council on June 3 for introduction of the amendments, and then again on June 17 for a second reading and adoption. He said the ordinance would go into effect 30 days after that.
While the amendments appear minor—such as removing the word “medical” from ordinance language—the effects will be substantial. In addition to allowing the two licensed dispensaries to sell and deliver recreational cannabis within city limits, it would also allow any cannabis permit holder (there are currently seven) to apply for a non-storefront retail sales license that would permit them to deliver. It would also require cannabis dispensaries located in other counties to apply for a regulatory permit to sell within Hollister. But under current state law, cannabis businesses can already delver in the city or anywhere else in the state.
During nearly two hours of public comments, the majority of speakers—ranging from long-time opponents to a 12-year-old boy—opposed the changes, mostly out of concern that children would believe if it is okay for adults to use recreational cannabis it would be ok for them to do so too. Cannabis operators and spokespersons also voiced concern for children, but repeatedly emphasized that city voters had spoken by passing Proposition 64 in 2016.
Lana Blodgett, co-owner of Monterey Bay Alternative Medicine (MBAM), one of the two dispensary license holders in the city, pointed out the dramatic increase of sales from recreational cannabis through her dispensaries in Salinas and Del Rey Oaks. She said that as of May 13, the Salinas dispensary had 22,377 adult-use customers compared to 1,173 medical-use customers over the course of one year. The Del Rey Oaks dispensary served 38,856 adult-use customers compared to 2,729 medical-use customers.
“I hope these numbers will help you in some way make that decision of how important it is for any business to be viable that we do have to include adult-use,” Blodgett said.
Those numbers, though, were used by opponents of adult-use to argue that it’s all about the money.
Resident Jim Whitehead said he hoped the council was as concerned as he was about the safety of city residents with respect to the sale of recreational cannabis, as he said most cities in the state still do not allow it. He said a Centers for Disease Control study on cannabis and public health found that 38% of high school students said they had used cannabis.
“Research shows marijuana can have permanent effects on developing brains when use begins in adolescence,” Whitehead said. “We’re not talking about selling recreational marijuana to youth, but to adults. We all know that they do get it and they do use it. The brain is not fully developed until the mid-20s, with the effects of difficulty in thinking and problem solving, memory, a decline in school performance and an increase in mental health problems.”
Earlier in the day, Councilman Marty Richman said in a press release that he would support changes to the cannabis ordinance. He repeated his intention during the meeting and told the audience of his time growing up and in the military during the 1960s, when it seemed everyone was using cannabis.
“Most of them turned out just fine,” Richman said. “I can tell you this, if 40% of the kids are using it, much of it is through the black market and you have no idea what’s in it because nobody’s testing it. The stuff they buy in the black market is guarded by guys with shotguns, using illegal fertilizers and stealing water.”
Councilwoman Carol Lenoir said she was making her decision “based on adult-use,” while Councilwoman Honor Spencer said she has watched “kids get high every day,” during the 21 years she’s worked at San Benito High School.
“When my 18-year-olds turned 18 they said they were going to get a card and get high,” Spencer said. “What we’re proposing tonight is for 21 and over. We have to go with what the voters voted on.”
Councilman Rolan Resendiz was affected by those who spoke out against recreational cannabis.
“This is probably one of the hardest decisions I’ve made,” Resendiz said. “I can see how passionate you are about the children and the harm this may cause in our community. If this thing goes south, it would be a heavy legacy to carry. After tonight, I don’t know which way I’m going to vote, but when I make that decision it will be with a clear conscience and with what my constituents want.”
Mayor Ignacio Velazquez wanted to know what the penalty would be if someone under 21 was caught with cannabis. Chris Wells, cannabis safety officer with the Hollister Police Department, told him if a person was over 18 but under 21, it would be an infraction or equivalent to a traffic ticket. For those under 18, it would go through the juvenile probation department.
Velazquez was cautious, as he has been throughout the three-year process of devising the city’s cannabis ordinance, and wanted to make sure there was a system to protect and treat minors.
“Tonight was a good example how people are passionate about this industry,” Velazquez said. “From day one, my point has been let’s make sure we’re doing it right. Let’s draft an ordinance that we can work with as a community. Those communities that did not pay attention to the rules early on have failed miserably and ended up in lawsuits trying to clean up their mess.”
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