By BOB NORBERG
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Robert Jacob, founder and executive director of two medical marijuana dispensaries, is running for
the City Council in Sebastopol, where a pot business hardly raises an eyebrow.
Running the dispensaries might even be a positive, Jacob said.
“It will be a great plus,” said Jacob. “It is a testament to my ability to be a community builder and take a leadership role.”
And if Jacob, who runs Peace In Medicine, is elected, it may be a first in California for someone making a living in medical marijuana.
Jacob, 35, said his interest in community issues stems largely from his service on the city planning commission for the past year.
“Taking part in that, I have become more and more interested in the issues facing Sebastopol,” Jacob said. “I am happy with the direction that Sebastopol is going in, the walkability, the sustainable business development. I am really interested in continuing the trends for our city that have greatly improved the quality of life.”
Jacob’s office is in Peace In Medicine, a nondescript building off to the side of Gravenstein Station. The only indication it might not be just an insurance office is a plain-clothed security guard on the porch talking into a lapel mic.
Jacob said he started Peace In Medicine five years ago because he saw a need in Sebastopol.
“I wanted to create something that would be a positive for the town and a healing center,” Jacob said.
Jacob also fashions himself as a successful businessman. He runs an enterprise with 49 employees at dispensaries in Sebastopol and on Dutton Avenue in Santa Rosa, with annual revenues of $5 million.
Peace In Medicine is a mutual benefit corporation under California law, which gives it nonprofit status as an organization set up to serve its membership. It is only required to report the names of its officers and directors and its business personal property taxes.
The officers are Jacob, who as executive director earns $64,000 a year, and a chief financial officer who earns $70,000.
Jacob doesn’t shy away from his association with medical marijuana, which is still controversial, with some critics believing it is just a cover for illicit marijuana sales.
“It is something that I am willing to deal with head on. Peace in Medicine is something I am extremely proud of,” Jacob said. “The medical marijuana ordinance in Sebastopol is seen as a model for the rest of the state.”
Jacob said he has also been a medical marijuana user, but it is in the past.
“I have found medical cannabis to be a helpful aid when necessary,” Jacob said.
Other than Peace In Medicine, however, Jacob is in the mainstream. He is a member of the Rotary Club of Sebastopol and a member of the Sebastopol Chamber of Commerce.
He is also a founding member and on the steering committee for Cittaslow Sebastopol, which promotes slow growth and a small-town character, and the Community Emergency Response Team that organizes neighborhoods for disaster preparedness.
A native of Rodeo, he has worked with other nonprofit agencies, including the Health Initiatives for Youth in San Francisco and Face-to-Face in Sonoma County.
He has also worked for the Ted Jacob Engineering Group in Oakland, which he describes as a family business run by his uncle, founded a chain of beauty salons in Turlock and also started and directed the Turlock Learning Center, a charter school.
With Sebastopol’s left-leaning voting history, Jacob’s association with medical marijuana will not be an issue, said Mayor Guy Wilson.
“In some jurisdictions it might be perceived as a liability, but in Sebastopol, maybe not so much,” said Wilson, who is not seeking re-election. “I won’t say it is a positive, but I think in Sebastopol we have a progressive community.”
Sebastopol voters three times elected Green Party members to the City Council and approved Proposition 19, the 2010 statewide initiative to legalize marijuana, by the highest percentage in Sonoma County, 66 percent.
Even the conservative Sebastopol Citizens would not look on it as an issue in evaluating a City Council candidate, said spokesman Dan Swedenborg.
“Whomever it is, even if they are involved with production and distribution of marijuana, it is how competently can they serve the city,” Swedenborg said. “Assuming that they are not doing anything patently illegal, it is not an issue.”
Still, Peace In Medicine lives in a legal limbo.
Sebastopol Police Chief Jeff Weaver said it is definitely in violation of federal law and he believes it, like all dispensaries, also violate the state laws governing medical marijuana.
However, Weaver said there is no intention in Sebastopol or in the Sonoma County District Attorney’s office to pursue violations on a criminal or administrative level.
“They are there, they exist and so I would say our interactions with them are very cordial and very professional,” Weaver said. “Other than a difference of opinion of the legality, they have been good neighbors, they have been helpful with us, and I cannot point to any direct negative impacts from their operations.”
If Jacob does get elected, it could be a first for someone in the medical marijuana industry, said Oakland attorney Bill Panzer, who has represented medical cannabis legal cases.
“I am not personally aware of anyone who first made their living in medical marijuana and then were elected to office, but there have been some who have run for office,” Panzer said.
Jacob, former mayor and architect Kathy Austin and incumbent Councilwoman Kathleen Shaffer are the only announced candidates so far for two open City Council seats in the November election.