By SAM SCOTT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Petaluma Mayor David Glass says that three months ago he might well have voted for lifting his city’s ban on marijuana dispensaries.
He has no doubt medical cannabis helps some and has the support of many more.
But times have changed. When the topic of lifting the ban arose at Monday’s City Council meeting, Glass told the audience his views had been tempered by the recent federal crackdown on the state’s medical marijuana industry.
“I believe the people want it,” Glass said. “I just don’t think at this time, in this environment, it’s the right thing to do because of the risks that are there.”
With one member absent, Glass’s decision left the council at a 3-3 impasse, keeping the 4-year-old ban secure.
“Until the mayor changes his mind or we get different people on the council, it will stay status quo,” said Councilman Gabe Kearney, who believes lifting the ban would bring in additional tax revenue that could be used to prevent substance abuse.
Glass’s change in perspective highlights the influence of the ongoing federal crackdown. On Oct. 7, the state’s four U.S. Attorneys announced an aggressive campaign against scores of dispensaries and growers, painting them as illegal profiteers.
“The California marijuana industry is not about providing medicine to the sick,” Laura Duffy, the San Diego-based U.S. Attorney, said at the time. “It’s a pervasive, for-profit industry that violates federal law.”
Agents armed with assault rifles and chainsaws raided Northstone Organics near Ukiah soon after the announcement, despite its sheriff’s permit to grow medicinal pot.
In Fairfax, the Marin Alliance for Medicinal Marijuana, the oldest dispensary in the state, got hit with a letter threatening additional penalties for selling drugs within 1,000 feet of a park.
The landlord was ordered to evict the pot club or risk imprisonment, plus forfeiture of the property and all rent collected from the dispensary. Marin Alliance shut down Sunday.
So far dispensaries and growers in Sebastopol, Santa Rosa, Cotati and unincorporated Sonoma County have escaped federal attention. But many attached to the industry have been jolted, and the gap between federal and state laws has seemed ever greater, some said.
“In general the cities and the counties have become confused in knowing what the truth is,” said Robert Jacob, executive director of Peace in Medicine Healing Center, which operates a pair of dispensaries in Santa Rosa and Sebastopol. “We really need to look to the state Attorney General’s office and the Legislature to clarify state medical cannabis laws.”
Despite the federal crackdown, Sonoma County has continued to refine its marijuana regulations, recently proposing to cap the dispensaries at nine and forming a stakeholders group composed of marijuana advocates and officials to look at new regulations on growing medicinal pot.
Supervisor Shirlee Zane said the conflict between state and federal laws highlighted the dysfunction in the system.
“As long as federal prohibitions and state law oppose one another, we are going to continue to have these problems,” she said.
If Washington does change the law, Glass said he would favor bringing a proposal to lift the ban back for quick consideration.
But if a Democratic administration has taken a get-tough approach, it’s unlikely a Republican one would be any more forgiving, he said.
“What if the election brings us a change in the White House?” he said. “What if the election brings us a change in the Senate as well? I can’t think that it gets better anytime soon in that scenario.”