(Editor’s note: This column was published in two parts in the print edition for spatial reasons. It is being posted here in its entirety.)
I was disappointed that all but one member of our City Council voted to allow marijuana to be legally grown, cultivated, processed and commercially sold in our little town beginning sometime in 2018. A great number of speakers presented or submitted very compelling arguments against such a decision including leaders of our schools, businesses and churches. Those arguments apparently fell on four deaf ears. One of life’s axioms postulates, “Most people, given the same information, come to the same conclusion, unless they are working an agenda.” Well, our council majority is working an agenda and they could care less what the public says. They continue to be hell-bent to become a first adopter of recreational marijuana sales in this area. Their sole goal of this action is to hopefully raise enough revenue from licensing and sales of the product to balance our city’s ever declining unbalanced budget.
Only one of the supporters of adopting this proposal had the courage to publically state his rationale for voting to support recreational marijuana. That person was Vice Mayor Steve Young, and I commend him for sharing his thoughts. I’ve never met Mr. Young so I do not want to disparage him as a person but I do take issue with some of the rationalizations he stated as reasons to support this issue. I will list his rationale and my position on each one.
* “He acknowledged that marijuana was damaging to the health and development of young people, but stressed that the new law applies to adults, not children.” (Vallejo Times-Herald, Dec. 22, 2017)
— On Aug.14, I provided each councilmember several reports citing the health risk to adults including but not limited to cancer, unrelenting vomiting, dangerous increase in heart rate, hallucinations, panic attacks, extended psychosis, difficulty in breathing. In addition, on Oct. 29, I shared a report indicating a significant increase in traffic accidents (48 percent) and death (62 percent) in Colorado where marijuana was present. I regard injury, dismemberment and death to be directly related to an individual’s personal health.
* He cites Vallejo “have not had a measurable increase in crime as a result of their dispensaries, an assertion he said that the mayor of Vallejo has backed up.”
— I don’t want to be snarky about this but why on earth would anyone solicit input from a city that has the highest crime rate in Solano County and the fifth highest crime rate in California cities of 30,000 or more? How on earth would they know if there were impacts to crime with the introduction of medical marijuana? Moreover, if that was true, why did they not approve recreational marijuana?
* He asked the city manager to instruct HDL to provide a more thorough background to support its estimates (of cost/revenue) which will then be passed to the public.
— So let’s assume that HDL made a gross error in their estimates. So what? One cannot un-ring a bell nor can one easily reverse a council decision. The clear answer here was that the study should have been validated and re-validated before a vote of the council.
* On federal intervention he cites the Obama administration memorandum regarding states that have legalized cannabis will not be pursued.
–On Nov. 30, I provided to the council comprehensive evidence that there were clear requirements to avoid federal intervention mainly regarding a requirement in the Obama memorandum that marijuana not be transported outside of California. I also provided evidence that California marijuana growth exceeded usage by some 11 million pounds of marijuana per year most of which is being transported illegally outside of California. It is only a matter of time for the Feds to enforce the illegal exportation to other states violation by shutting down California’s recreational marijuana laws.
* Young cites the self-selecting survey the city conducted in which the majority of people polled (responded) agreed to allow cannabis business in town.
— I not only participated in this survey, I voted a number of times. After voting, I contacted the company conducting the survey and confessed I had used a number of emails to pass multiple votes. Only after my confession did I receive a notice that my multiple votes had been erased. I seriously doubt they would have been rejected if I had not notified them. Considering that there were less than 750 votes made by who knows how few people in a city of 28,000, I advised the council of these facts which should have put the survey in total doubt as to its veracity.
* He agrees with Councilman Mark Hughes’ position that the passage of Proposition 64 did not specifically mean support for dispensaries in Benicia.
— This is the one thing we totally agree on. However, if that was his belief, why didn’t Mr. Young join forces with Mr. Hughes and try to get the council to delay voting and/or place the question on the 2018 ballot to confirm once and for all if the public wants dispensaries et al in Benicia?
Benicia’s decision to be in a first adopter status comes with neither the talent nor resources– financial or technical– to be successful. Even Vallejo understood the level of commitment and financial resources required to successfully manage its way through the unknowns of allowing medical marijuana dispensaries. That knowledge and a series of long and expensive lawsuits led them to not approve the sale of recreational marijuana in Vallejo and to leave it to the citizens of Vallejo to decide in 2018 elections. No other city in Solano County is allowing recreational marijuana. When we look at Contra Costa County we find one city– Richmond– in that county is allowing recreational marijuana. Most cities were very clear that they wanted to delay any decision until they fully understood how implementation was handled by the state and large cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco.
So where are all of the people wanting to participate in using recreational marijuana going to get their product? Welcome to the world Benicia wishes to embrace. Benicia’s role as first adopter status will be to serve a large population in excess of 500,000 potential clients mostly from outside of Benicia. The stress and strain on the city’s resources especially its police will be daunting, if not overwhelming, if only 10 percent of that number come to Benicia to get their marijuana. I admire our police chief’s statement that he intends to focus on illegal growth and sale of marijuana outside of dispensaries. Well, good luck on that one because if we get the influx of people I predict we will, our small city is going to be rift with all types of people, good and bad, along with the associated maladies of society.
The next step in this road to disaster is for the city to finalize the ordinance that will be used to govern the who, what, why, when, where and how of regulating recreational marijuana. My first review of the ordinance resulted in me submitting a letter to the council and staff on Nov. 30 stating that it was an insult to the public to entitle the ordinance “Cannabis Public Safety Ordinance.” All ordinances, especially this one, should be descriptive. My suggested title was “Cannabis Business License Ordinance,” namely because that is what it is, and secondly because there is little to no evidence of it providing safety to the public in this ordinance.
Please take time to watch the council either in person or on the web if for no other reason than to thank the council for this unwanted lump of coal.
Dennis Lowry is a retired telecommunications executive and former chairman of the Benicia Finance, Budget and Audit Committee. He has been a Benicia resident since 1986.