San Benito County supervisors passed a resolution Oct. 25 in a 3-2 vote to oppose California Proposition 64, which, if passed during the Nov. 8 election, would legalize adult nonmedical marijuana use for adults 21 and older. The law would also create a system for regulating nonmedical marijuana businesses, impose taxes on marijuana, and change penalties for marijuana-related crimes.
Supervisors Robert Rivas and Jaime De La Cruz voted against the resolution, meaning they did not want the county to oppose the measure.
Under the statewide ballot measure, adults age 21 and over would be able to purchase marijuana at state-licensed services. Businesses could not be located within 600 feet of a school, daycare center, or youth center unless allowed by a local government. These marijuana businesses would not be allowed also sell alcohol or tobacco. Also, local governments could allow on-site consumption of the marijuana. A legislative analyst estimated that tax revenue could reach $1 billion annually, but not right away.
County Counsel Barbara Thompson said the resolution was a result of the board’s request at its previous meeting. She said it was based on a similar resolution passed by San Diego. Supervisor Anthony Botelho said the resolution reflected a position against recreational use of marijuana that is not contrary to medical marijuana use. He then said he would reserve any further statements until after public comments. Supervisor Robert Rivas also chose to wait, adding that he would have a lot to say, and then prefaced, “Just a warning.”
Most, but not all, who spoke at the meeting favored the resolution to oppose Prop. 64, and encouraged the supervisors to vote to affirm that. Many had spoken at previous supervisors' and Hollister City Council meetings against the recreational use of marijuana. By their denials, though, it was apparent that some of them had become aware of accusations that they were possibly being paid to speak out against recreational marijuana.
Gary Cameron, who has lived in Hollister for 42 years, was the first to say he was not being paid to speak, and neither was he part of a $14 million campaign being waged by the marijuana industry to get the measure passed. He said his point of view concerning marijuana came from being in law enforcement for 43 years. He said the supervisors should be concerned about the health, safety and welfare of residents, and they should be asking if speakers were locals or out-of-towners only interested in making money. He said in Colorado, marijuana use by young people has gone up 74 percent above the national average.
“In Washington state (traffic) fatalities went up 122 percent as far as marijuana-related accidents,” Cameron said. “There’s been a 400 percent increase in marijuana-related DUI arrests. In Colorado, traffic-related deaths increased 62 percent. And we might ask ourselves why are 68 percent of Colorado communities opting out of recreational marijuana sales, as have Gilroy and Morgan Hill.”
He said Colorado had experienced tax revenues of only .05 percent from medical and recreational marijuana sales for 2015, which he pointed out is not enough to cover law enforcement or social consequences.
Dan Hudson came with a different perspective. He said he began drinking beer at 16, and smoking pot when he was 17. He said, fortunately, he’s neither an alcoholic nor a heroin addict. He said there has been a prohibition against marijuana for 40 years and people who use it have been demonized. He compared the use of marijuana to drinking alcohol.
“Anybody who thinks that marijuana is more dangerous than alcohol is wrong,” he proclaimed. “A lot of people don’t want us to smoke marijuana, but I don’t think they have the right to tell a grown man, 62 years old, who smokes marijuana two or three times a week that it’s against the law and you can be put in jail for it. That is archaic thinking. Prohibition is going to come to an end, whether you like it or not. Millions of people enjoy marijuana every single day. It’s time to end prohibition. It’s time to take people out of jail for smoking pot. I know California doesn’t put too many people in jail anymore, but the No. 1 reason people are in jail in the United States is because of cannabis.”
According to Cannabis Law Group’s Medical Marijuana Legal Blog, there are 94,678 people in federal prison because of drug violations. Of those, 11,533 are for involvement with cannabis products, with the majority of those being convicted of drug trafficking.
Peter Hernandez said that when it comes to making a drug legal, he doesn’t see how it makes sense in regards to the culture and health of a community. He said he understands the need for medical marijuana and that it makes no sense to demonize those who use it for that purpose.
“That’s not what this is about,” he said. “It’s about protecting the culture of our community. I’m part of our local gang prevention committee and it’s hard to ignore the study that talks about how the law in Colorado was passed was specific to adult use, yet it somehow affected the youth. We have to ask ourselves what we want to see in our community. I would hate to see the fabric of our community broken down by a drug for recreational purposes.”
Wendy Krulee, who has lived in the county for 16 years, said she is concerned that many of those who had spoken against Prop. 64 had been asked to do so by their church.
“They have worked with the city council to use Prop. 64 as a bellwether measure for medical marijuana, so it does affect medical users negatively,” she said. “Cannabis has been nothing short of a miracle in my family, for me. I have lost family members to alcohol and accidental pill overdoses, taking their drugs as prescribed by doctors. I do not want to become that statistic.”
Krulee said medical marijuana allows her to manage her life in a healthy manner that allows her to participate in her children’s lives.
“I’m not a criminal. I’ve never broken the law,” she said. “I’m a taxpaying citizen and have excellent values. A lot of the numbers you’re hearing here today are dated. I’m concerned that Prop. 64 is being used for future (actions taken) against medical use. They’ve already shown in discussions that they don’t want a medical dispensary here.”
The first thing Elia Salinas had to say was the she was not a paid cannabis advocate. She commented that most working people can't get to the supervisor meetings —which are held on periodic Tuesday mornings — to express their opinions, and that many of the speakers before her were probably retired and feel strongly about the proposition. She said that she is an advocate for medical marijuana and agreed with Krulee that the statistics being used were outdated. She bolstered her stand by reciting a long list of newspapers, elected officials, political organizations, and even churches (though not by name) that support medical marijuana.
“The plant doesn’t know if it’s recreational or medical,” she said. “The fact is people are using marijuana in this county and the state as a recreational (drug). We’re saying regulate it and that way we can try to get rid of what’s going on in the black market.”
Botelho said there is a definite benefit to medical marijuana.
“I’d like to see that law reformed,” he said. “It’s just too easy to get marijuana cards for people who probably shouldn’t have them. The industry is widespread and the oversight is just not there.”
He said he looks at Prop. 64 as a social issue.
“This is a time to reflect on our values as a community on how we vote on this,” he said. “I’m not going to run away from this. I’m against Proposition 64. I don’t want our young people to gain greater access. That’s really important to me. And being a business owner, I don’t think it’s good for adult use. I don’t want my employees showing up for work high on marijuana and compromising their safety or their fellow workers'. It just sends the wrong message to our youth.”
Rivas said he likes to make it clear why he votes for or against resolutions. He commented that while he often disagrees with Supervisor Margie Barrios, he appreciates the fact that because of her opinions he must do his homework. He said the marijuana debate has pulled him in different directions. He said that all the comments he’s heard, whether for or against marijuana, are correct and make sense to him. As he has said before, as a part-time professor at Gavilan Community College, he teaches classes on American government and the Constitution.
“It’s fascinating that federal law specifically states that the possession of a Schedule I controlled substance is subject to criminal prosecution, however, states have legalized and are considering the legalization of marijuana for recreation use by adults," Rivas said. "The longer I studied this issue, I realized this is exactly what our country is all about.”
He said at the center of the debate is what the appropriate relationship between the federal government and the individual states should be.
“You see having very long histories of experimenting with innovate policies has allowed other states, and our own federal government, to see if new ideas work, or don’t work, before they adopt them,” Rivas said. “I can’t support this resolution before us because I have made the decision to vote yes on Proposition 64."
He went on to say that one of the persuading arguments that solidified his vote came from Republican Congressman Tom McClintock, who reportedly said, "I abhor the use of marijuana and believe we should do everything we can through education and persuasion to discourage its use. But our current laws have failed us and have created a violent and primal black market that actively and aggressively markets to young people. Legalization takes the profit out of the equation and allows us to regulate marijuana the same way we currently regulate alcohol. This should make it more difficult for minors to obtain marijuana. It should remove illegal cultivation from our neighborhoods and forests, and move it to more normal agricultural operations, and it should replace the criminal gangs that traffic marijuana with law-abiding farmers and shopkeepers."
Rivas said he knew he was probably disappointing many in the room.
“I appreciate your comments and I’m willing to accept the outcome of this proposition, whether the vote is yes or it’s voted down,” he said, “but this is how I feel, and on Nov. 8, I will be voting 'yes' on Proposition 64.”
After a smattering of applause, Barrios said she doesn’t want the community to become the marijuana capital of United States.
“We have great weather. We have beautiful soil. It will become that because it's optimally situated for that kind of growth,” she said. “That’s not what I want for our community. I’m going to vote 'no' on 64. To those who enjoy pot, smoke it, I don’t really care. Just don’t grow it in my backyard and don’t subject me to the smell of your pot, and, hopefully, you will not get addicted to it.”
Barrios went on to say that while taxes would be collected from marijuana grows, it won’t benefit anyone because most of it will go toward law enforcement rather than into the community.
“How are we going to benefit from that?” she said.
Supervisor Jaime De La Cruz was silent throughout the discussion and joined Rivas in voting against the resolution, but it carried as Supervisors Barrios, Botelho and Muenzer voted in favor of it.