Banning commercial marijuana the wise choice for our cities

The age of Big Marijuana is rapidly approaching. Elected officials are under pressure by marijuana activists to relax bans on marijuana businesses or face rowdy council chambers and threats of citizens initiatives. Campaigns are being funded by Big Marijuana and politicians are being cajoled, coerced and lobbied to overturn bans on commercial marijuana businesses.

Some elected officials claim they are “serving the will of the voters” by advocating for marijuana because Proposition 64 (the Adult Use of Marijuana Act) was approved by 57 percent of Californians.

But Prop. 64 explicitly allows local jurisdictions to make their own rules, including prohibiting commercial marijuana activity. Even in Colorado and Washington, where voters approved marijuana legalization in 2012, as many as half of the jurisdictions prohibit commercial marijuana.

And just this past January, the residents of Compton, which also supported Prop. 64, rejected two local initiatives to allow pot sales with 75 percent of voters voting no.

Fortunately, some local leaders are standing up to the pressures of the marijuana industry. In North County, the cities of Carlsbad, Escondido, Poway and San Marcos have stated unequivocally that they have no interest in commercial marijuana:

“There is no amount of money that would make me vote to support the commercial sale of marijuana in Poway. Period,” declared Poway Mayor Steve Vaus. Councilman Barry Leonard concurred, “Poway is the safest city in the county. There’s a reason for that. We support our law enforcement folks and we do what’s right to protect our children.”

Cities that have made firm statements opposing commercial marijuana also seem to be facing less pressure from Big Marijuana. Cities like Oceanside, however, which formed a Medical Marijuana Ad Hoc Committee, have been inundated by pro-pot interests from every corner (farmers, distributors, dispensary owners, manufacturers, etc.), all seeing green.

They are hoping Oceanside’s City Council votes on March 28 to approve all aspects of “medical” marijuana businesses — cultivation, nurseries, manufacturing, distribution, testing and dispensaries. These would be in addition to delivery services, which Oceanside approved in March 2016.

Oceanside staff were directed to get input from various departments and commissions. On Feb. 20, the Police and Fire Commission voted unanimously to reject the Ad Hoc committee recommendations and support Police Chief Frank McCoy’s memo that identified concerns and concluded, “recommend that our City wait on moving forward with opening any type of dispensary.”

The Economic Development Commission did not take a formal vote at its meeting on March 1, but discussed the need for tax revenue (which is currently not included) and potential impacts on tourism, such as declines in family tourism. They also recognized there is no guarantee that local farmers would stay local. Farmers could easily sell out to Big Marijuana as soon as the zoning regulations are changed.

Oceanside’s Planning Commission met on March 12.  The first agenda item addressed a proposed sales tax increase to fund public safety, infrastructure and local services.  The flyer states, in part, “The cost of public safety is increasing every year, and Oceanside does not receive State funding for public safety.  The City needs additional resources to maintain safety and our level of police officers, firefighter/paramedics and lifeguards.”

Immediately following was a recommendation by staff to approve zoning regulations to allow for all types of “medical marijuana” businesses.

The disconnect between the need for more public safety and approving a new industry that would negatively impact public safety appeared to be lost on commissioners, who voted 7-0 to approve the regulations and recommended relaxing them further.

As a resident of Oceanside, parent and volunteer president of NCPC, one of my biggest concerns with allowing Big Marijuana to get a foothold in Oceanside is the advertising and promotion of marijuana that will inevitably lead to normalization of marijuana use.

Marijuana advertising is inescapable in the city of San Diego — sign twirlers, petty cabs, billboards, news organizations, even radio stations all readily point the way to pot shops. Oceanside has been working for over 40 years to clean up its image. I hope our City Council recognizes at the March 28 meeting that a bright future for Oceanside will be found in North County leaders saying no to marijuana commercialization and normalization.

Craig Balben is a resident of Oceanside and president of the North Coastal Prevention Coalition.

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