Cannabis Conundrum Challenges Community

Last November California voters passed Proposition 64, which allows anyone 21 or older to buy recreational marijuana (cannabis) from licensed California sellers beginning January 1, 2018. State lawmakers continue enacting legislation to regulate this multibillion dollar industry.

What does Proposition 64 mean for Alameda? Recently much local discussion has centered on the widely recognized medicinal benefits of cannabis for cancer patients, cancer survivors and people with debilitating pain or other conditions. But medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996 and Alameda residents with a medical marijuana identification card can purchase cannabis from dispensaries in Oakland, or have it delivered to their home. And Alameda is not losing sales tax dollars to Oakland because under Proposition 64 purchasers of medical marijuana don’t pay sales tax.

To better understand the complex issues Proposition 64 presents for our community, I recently at-tended an all-day seminar for local government officials covering all aspects of commercial cannabis activity. A recurring theme, from speakers and officials in jurisdictions with cannabis businesses was, “Go slow. Start small”.

Alameda is considering five different types of commercial cannabis activity; each has pros and cons.

  • Cultivation. Cannabis can be grown indoor or outdoor, but outdoor involves high risk of theft, access to minors and animals, and high water consumption; indoor cultivation requires large amounts of electricity for grow lights.
  • Manufacturing. Besides smoking, people can ingest cannabis from manufactured products such as edibles, drinks and topical creams. Manufacturing issues include security, odor control, and disposal.
  • Testing Lab. New law requires testing for harmful substances like pesticides. Labs are prohibited from conducting any other commercial cannabis activities so they do not generate sales tax, but they do provide well-paid jobs.
  • Distribution. After a cannabis product is manufactured and tested it is distributed; distributor is responsible for collecting taxes that go back to the City.
  • Retail Dispensaries and Delivery. Dispensaries will be allowed to sell medical cannabis only, or medical and recreational cannabis; dispensaries can include delivery service, even without store-front sales. Onsite consumption could be also allowed but raises concerns over impaired driving and appropriate location.

Which, if any of these activities would be appropriate for Alameda? Important considerations include:

  • Community Benefits. Sales tax revenue, potential to create well-paid jobs, convenience to residents.
  • Public Health. In Colorado marijuana-related children’s hospital visits almost doubled two years after legalization, mostly from ingesting edibles. California law specifies that cannabis products are not supposed to be attractive to kids, but there is no requirement for child resistant packaging.
  • Legal. Marijuana is still illegal under federal law; current Attorney General says he intends to pursue violators. Navy still has not conveyed some areas of Alameda Point to city. Would cannabis activity at Alameda Point jeopardize remaining conveyance?
  • Public Safety. A single plant can produce more than $10,000 worth (wholesale) of useable cannabis, but most banks are insured by FDIC and cannot accept cannabis revenue. These cash businesses require armed guards and sophisticated security systems.
  • Accidents resulting from impaired driving.
  • Land Use. State law provides a 600 foot buffer zone from schools and day care centers but cities can require more. City Council has expressed interest in a 1,000 foot buffer that could also include parks.
  • Environmental. High water and electricity consumption.

City Council, with input from residents and staff must determine what cannabis activity is best for Alameda. I favor advice from other cities to “Go slow. Start small.” And I want more community input — from school personnel, law enforcement, community organizations, religious leaders, business representatives and you. Next month the City will hold another Cannabis Meeting. Please let us know what you think. 

Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft sits on the Alameda City Council.