California cities are rethinking their commercial marijuana bans

Nearly two dozen California communities are rethinking their local marijuana retail bans, often under pressure from citizens or the threat of a local ballot initiative.

California’s rollout of legal recreational marijuana after Proposition 64 passed in 2016 has been very messy. The election measure allowed municipalities to limit or even ban the cultivation and retail sale of marijuana within their borders. And that’s exactly what most cities have done: two-thirds of California cities have banned marijuana businesses. So, even though it’s legal, many Golden State citizens don’t live in a place where they can actually buy marijuana from a licensed dispensary.

This is one of the many reasons (high taxes are another) why black market marijuana sales are estimated to be around $8 billion a year, compared to around $5.2 billion in sales. legal for 2021.

Now, some cities that had quickly banned dispensaries (sometimes even in cities where the majority voted in favor of Prop. 64) are rethinking their decisions.

In Simi Valley, for example, the city council voted in March to begin reconsidering a 2018 decision banning the cultivation, manufacture and retail sale of marijuana within city limits. In the case of Simi Valley, citizens received an advisory vote on whether to license marijuana businesses, which failed by just 2,000 votes.

But Simi Valley Mayor Keith Mashburn now says residents are asking the town to reconsider the issue, and the town will be polling residents for another round of comment. Not surprisingly, money may be on some leaders’ minds. Although the city does not allow direct sales, Ventura County Star notes that Simi Valley is still able to claim tax revenue from delivery sales within city limits and collects about $15,000 annually. The more those $8 billion in black market sales are transferred to legal purchases, the more the local government can try to collect a cut.

For the same reason, the city of Healdsburg in Sonoma County wine country is considering ending its ban on the commercial marijuana industry. There, City Manager Jeff Kay estimates marijuana sales could create jobs and hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenue, though he also warned the money “wouldn’t be a transformative cash cow. “.

Some cities are under pressure from citizens trying local ballot initiatives to allow cannabusiness. In Huntington Beach, two residents were allowed to obtain signatures in an attempt to force the city to license marijuana businesses. Voice of OC notes that the two citizens don’t appear to actually be collecting signatures, but nonetheless, the Huntington Beach government will now go ahead and ask voters in an election in June if they want to tax potential marijuana businesses before to potentially allow them to open shop there.

Erik Peterson, a member of the Huntington Beach City Council, said bluntly that “the writing is on the wall that cannabis is coming, legalization is coming, and the best thing the city council can do is come out ahead.”

Many cities across the state are considering similar changes — Anaheim, Riverside, Santee and more than a dozen others, if media coverage from across the state is to be believed. Yes, on some level they are driven by a desire for more revenue, but in some cases these leaders are also responsive to citizens and ultimately push marijuana panics aside. And it also helped that legal marijuana over the past five years hasn’t caused the nightmares insisted on by the alarmists. Rather, the various problems California has had with corruption and the marijuana black market are the result of how restrictive the government was in the first place.

These city leaders have the right idea, unlike state lawmakers who are backsliding and thinking they can stop the marijuana black market by introducing more criminal penalties and fines. We already know from decades of raids that the War on Drugs has failed entirely to stop black markets in marijuana. Get out of the way and let a million pot shops bloom.

Bernard P. Love