By MATT BROWN
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Left-leaning Sebastopol has elected Green Party candidates to the City Council, fought PG&E SmartMeters and declared itself a nuclear-free zone.
Now the city is the first in the nation to select a mayor with a background in the medical marijuana industry.
First-year councilman Robert Jacob, founder and executive director of marijuana dispensary Peace in Medicine, was unanimously chosen last week for the role by his peers on the City Council.
Jacob’s rise to political prominence says as much about Sebastopol’s progressivism as it does about the growing acceptance of marijuana in society, cannabis advocates said.
The 36-year-old mayor was elected to the City Council last year amid a backlash over a downtown CVS development. In 2007, he founded Peace in Medicine, a nonprofit collective with medical marijuana dispensaries in Sebastopol and Santa Rosa.
Jacob, who is gay and is the first Latino mayor of Sebastopol, said he has worked to empower disenfranchised groups such as minorities, the homeless and AIDS patients. He said his association with medical marijuana does not define him.
“Before, medical marijuana would be considered a defining factor,” he said. “Now it’s just another part of my identity. What it does say is that there’s a better understanding of cannabis as medicine.”
Twenty states, starting with California in 1996, have legalized or decriminalized medical marijuana. Washington and Colorado last year legalized the drug for recreational use. Cannabis remains illegal at the federal level.
Sebastopol in 2007 passed an ordinance regulating medical marijuana dispensaries.
Marijuana advocates hailed Jacob’s ascension to mayor as “historic” and “unprecedented.”
“There has never been a dispensary operator elected to public office anywhere in the country, as far as we’re aware,” said Kris Hermes, media liaison with Americans for Safe Access, a Washington, D.C.-based medical marijuana advocacy organization. “This is a sign that indicates the mainstreaming of medical marijuana. We’re no longer the most radical group in the room.”
The position of mayor in Sebastopol is largely ceremonial. The mayor is not afforded powers beyond those of other councilmembers except for the ability to run meetings and set agendas, said outgoing mayor Michael Kyes. Mayors typically serve for a year, and the post is traditionally rotated among councilmembers.
Kyes said Jacobs will be a fine city head and doesn’t think his background as a marijuana dispenser is eyebrow-raising in Sebastopol.
“He’s dynamic and enthusiastic, and I think he’ll be a good leader,” he said. “I don’t think of that (dispensary) very often in Sebastopol. When it first opened it was a big deal. Now it’s just like any other business. (Jacob) is as mainstream as any other business owner in Sebastopol.”
Craig Litwin, a Sebastopol political consultant who worked on Jacob’s campaign, said the new mayor is passionate about all the issues facing the city, not just access to medical marijuana.
“He brings a lot of compassion for disenfranchised groups,” he said. “He supports our small-town charm. He is for fiscal responsibility. I’ve never met a better multitasker than Robert Jacob.”
Jacob said his selection as mayor shows a level of cooperation on a City Council that has become increasingly divisive.
“The fact that I was appointed by my peers by unanimous vote feels great,” he said. “Sebastopol is a place where we don’t always agree. This shows that we are willing to work together.”
(You can reach Staff Writer Matt Brown at 521-5206 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)