Even though there was no official agenda item regarding marijuana for the Sept. 6 Hollister City Council meeting, that did not stop a number of residents from taking the opportunity during the public input portion of the meeting to speak out against the medical marijuana ordinance on which the council is set to vote Sept. 19.
Jack Kirk, who said he was speaking on behalf of the Residents for a Drug Free San Benito County, a group established last July, said he appreciated the council’s willingness to slow down the process to allow for public input and thanked Mayor Ignacio Velazquez for taking the time to meet with the committee. He claimed that the group’s Facebook page had received more than 14,000 views from people trying to get information about the proposed ordinance.
“We’d like to encourage you to work with the county government because whatever happens in the city happens within our county,” Kirk said. “One of the questions we’d like you to consider, is your approach to this ordinance that of an attitude of accommodation by the city council to the marijuana industry? Or is it the desire of the city council to protect the businesses and residents of Hollister from potential adverse impacts on the health, safety and welfare from the effects associated with the cultivation, manufacturing and dispensing of marijuana products within the city limits?”
Kirk added that the group recognized there is a “small community” in Hollister that uses medical marijuana. He said their needs should be accommodated through dispensaries that have been vetted by the police department, rather than the city manager.
Steve Becerra said he had been at all the meetings regarding the ordinance and felt it was abundantly clear to him, and felt it should be clear to the council, that a majority of locals are against the cultivation, manufacturing, and dispensing of marijuana within the city. He also said that those who need medical marijuana should have access to it. He then presented the council a copy of a medical marijuana ordinance from Emeryville, Calif. He said that while the ordinance does not allow the cultivation, manufacturing and selling of marijuana in that city, it does allow deliveries from sources outside of the county that are already legally operating.
“They don’t want some of the things that come along these operations,” Becerra said. “All you have to do is Google some of the crimes that are happening at dispensaries in Oregon, Washington and Colorado. It doesn’t happen everywhere, but it does happen.”
Becerra finished his comments by holding up an advertisement that he said was in the Aug. 25 Free Lance for the Canna Culture Collective.
“I’m not sure who this is targeting, but this is the kind of thing we want to prevent,” he said, and then read from the advertising flyer, “Back to college special. Ten percent off with school I.D. Free T-shirt or pre-roll for new patients.”
Dr. Cammon Arrington, a pediatric specialist, said he speaks passionately on behalf of children. He said there is a need to follow directions given in the marijuana policy statement published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
He read from the statement: “Marijuana can be harmful to adolescent health and development. Making it more available to adults, even if restrictions are in place, will increase the access for teens. Just the campaigns to legalize marijuana can have the effect of persuading adolescents that marijuana is not dangerous, which can have a devastating impact on their lifelong health and development. For adolescents marijuana can impair memory and concentration, interfere with learning linked to lower odds of completing high school or obtaining a college degree.”
The article went on to describe marijuana’s effects on motor skills and resulting psychological problems, and even though there might be some medical benefits, without FDA regulation there are concerns about purity and formulations.
Arrington said the AAP opposes both medical and recreational marijuana outside of the normal regulatory processes of the FDA. He said published data from the National Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that in Colorado there was a 20 percent increase in the use of marijuana in adolescents after medical marijuana was legalized there. Adolescents living in states where medical marijuana had been legalized were 30 percent more likely to use it compared to those in states where it was not legal, the report said.
Gary Cameron said he has lived in Hollister for 45 years and wanted to speak to the council from the perspective of law enforcement. He said he worked a combined 33 years for the Chico Police Department and California Highway Patrol. He said he has personally seen deaths, physical injuries and emotional damage caused to victims by those who drove under the influence of drugs.
“We have over 3,000 traffic fatalities in California every year,” he said. “The statistics indicate that 32 percent of all drivers in motor vehicle accidents who were tested, tested positive for legal or illegal drugs. These statistics are sobering that we should look at Colorado and Washington’s experiences to check what would happen if we in Hollister became a distribution hub for Gilroy, Morgan Hill and other cities.”
Cameron quoted from the study, “Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado, the Impact,” which claimed marijuana deaths increased 62 percent after recreational marijuana was legalized in 2013; 77 percent of drivers using drugs involved marijuana; and 68 percent of jurisdictions in the state now ban all marijuana business.
“If so much tax money can be made and there’s so much benefit to local jurisdictions, why have 68 percent of Colorado jurisdictions opted out?” he asked. “Logic and past experience have shown that those who want drugs go to locations where they can be obtained easiest. Can you imagine the dramatic impact this will have on Hollister and our safety as drug users from other cities drive to and from and through our city to obtain their drugs?”
Cameron claimed that after Washington state legalized recreational marijuana, incidents in which drivers with active THC in their blood were involved in fatal traffic accidents increased 122.2 percent, along with a 400 percent increase in marijuana-related DUI arrests. He then asked if the police department would be a more appropriate choice in deciding who can open a dispensary, rather than the city manager. He said that the California Association of Highway Patrolmen, the California Police Chiefs Association, the LA Police Protective League, LA sheriffs and others all oppose the adult use of marijuana.
Stephanie Smith stated that it has been suggested that by allowing the legal production and sale of marijuana locally, that the problem of illegal operations would be solved as legal growers police illegal growers.
“This is a fallacy,” she said. “There’s no proof that we have seen that this would work.”
She described the two as serving different markets, age-wise, yet benefiting one another, as the illegal market produces a growing number of under-age addicts who eventually age into the legal market. She claimed that legal co-ops supposedly grow for their members then illegally sell to dispensaries that sell to the general public.
“Should legal growers in Hollister sell out their supply, they can acquire more product from the illegal growers under the guise of it being legal,” she said. “We cannot rely on legal growers to police illegal growers. Name an industry where a certified legal producer is expected to police and protect consumers from illegal producers. It doesn’t exist.”
Smith went on to say the police don’t have the resources to close illegal operations as the water board doesn’t have the authority to police excessive water use. Legalizing marijuana, she said, will allow the black market to prosper as it hides behind legal operations.
“Hollister doesn’t want to become the next crime-infused Humboldt (County),” Smith said. “Since Hollister already cannot afford to police existing illegal grows, it’s clear that we lack the infrastructure to manage, regulate and police and expansion of this industry.”