By James Egan, MD
Special to the Herald
After lulling critics into complacency, the Benicia City Council has instructed staff to draw up a draft ordinance allowing the licensing of three marijuana distribution centers in the city of Benicia, including a microbusiness.
It becomes clearer that the council’s unanimous vote on Dec. 5 to disallow a dispensary on the First Street corridor, rather than representing a moment of clarity and good judgement, was merely politically expedient, as councilman Schwartzman’s necessary recusal guaranteed that the required number of pro-cannabis votes were not there to be had (Thank you Councilman Hughes).
Among the councilmembers supporting the ordinance during their Dec. 19 meeting was Vice Mayor Steve Young, who, to his credit, took the initiative to explain his vote via social media and in the Herald’s Jan. 7 Forum. As part of his argument he cites the city survey (http://www.ci.benicia.ca.us/beniciatownhall) stating that “37 percent of the respondents want no dispensaries anywhere, while 63 percent supported either both medical and recreational dispensaries (51 percent) or medical only (12%). 37 percent opposition, while significant, does not represent a majority of those voting.”
The vice mayor accurately cites the responses to Question One of the Benicia Town Hall survey, “Should the City allow commercial cannabis dispensaries to operate in Benicia?” but interprets the results incorrectly. The ordinance that will come before the council on Feb. 6 provides for legalization of the distribution of medical and recreational cannabis. This was opposed by 49 percent of the responders to that question, essentially a tie given the expected statistical error of 2 to 3 percent for a sampling of this size. If 37 percent represents “significant” opposition to cannabis dispensaries, as he states, then 49 percent could be said to represent highly significant opposition.
Young acknowledges that the will of the public should play an essential role in the council’s decision-making process on these issues. In that spirit, it is important to glean as much information as possible from the survey, and the responses to Question Two also merit critical review to obtain the clearest possible picture of where the community stands on retail cannabis in Benicia.
Question Two reads:
“If yes, should cannabis dispensaries be allowed to open and operate in:
a) Downtown Benicia
b) Shopping Centers (Solano Square, Southampton or any other retail locations.)
c) Benicia Industrial Park.”
Bear with me for a minute.
The General Information section of the Survey indicates a total of 1,410 respondents. Nearly all, 1,402, responded to Question One. However, only 1,180, 1,177 and 1,217 responded to parts a, b and c of Question Two, a dropout of 222, 225 and 185 responses, respectively. In contrast, there were an average of 1,377 responses to all the remaining non-narrative questions, around 98 percent of the total respondents. So, the dropout of responders on Question Two does not appear to have been due to fatigue or disinterest. (After all, it was only the second question.) What, then, accounts for the loss of these 200 or so opinions?
The answer lies within the question itself, which begins with the words “If yes,” referring to the respondents’ answer to Question One. Most people would interpret “If yes” as meaning “If you answered yes to Question One, then what is your answer to the following questions?” The people who answered “No, they should not be allowed at all” to Question One should have skipped question 2, which a lot of them appear to have done, and the respondents who answered Question One but abstained from Question Two should be included as “No” votes on all three parts of Question Two. “No, …not… at all” means not Downtown, not in any retail location and not in the Industrial Park.
Including these lost votes in the three parts of Question 2 has the following effects:
* “No” responses: 682
* “No” response to Question One: 222
* Total “No” responses: 904
* Percentage of “No” responses to total responses: 904/1402 = 65 percent
Shopping Centers or any other retail location:
* “No” responses: 592
* “No” response to Question One: 225
* Total “No” responses: 817
* Percentage of “No” responses to total responses 817/1402 = 58 percent
Benicia Industrial Park
* “No” responses: 362
* “No” response to Question One: 185
* Total “No” responses: 547
* Percentage of “No” responses to total responses: 547/1402 = 39 percent
In summary, when interpreted carefully, the following observations can be made from Questions One and Two of the Benicia Town Hall survey:
1) Responses are equally divided between those opposed to and those in favor of retail distribution of non-medical cannabis products in Benicia, bearing in mind a possible pro-cannabis bias to the survey itself due to self-selection for participation and ability of individuals to complete multiple surveys (As documented by Dennis Lowry in the Benicia Herald on jan. 5).
2) A significant majority of those responding are opposed to a cannabis dispensary in downtown Benicia.
3) A significant majority of those responding are opposed to a cannabis dispensary “at any retail location” in Benicia.
4) A majority of those responding are not opposed to a cannabis dispensary located in the Industrial Park.
And the logical extension, if the Industrial Park is excluded from consideration for a cannabis dispensary, there is no acceptable location for such a facility in Benicia.
(Part 2 will be published in Tuesday’s Forum.)
James, Egan, MD is a Benicia resident.