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Don’t say no to pot dispensary

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On Jan. 1, an adult in California will be able to walk into a dispensary and legally purchase cannabis, the result of Prop. 64, which state voters passed last year legalizing recreational marijuana for adult use.

Despite overwhelming support for the ballot measure in Petaluma, residents of this city will still have no storefront where they can purchase the product. Prop. 64 left much of the details to local jurisdictions, including how to permit and tax the sale of cannabis.

The Petaluma City Council last week adopted a host of regulations on the cannabis industry. Among other things, Petaluma’s ordinance permits two distributors to operate cannabis delivery services in the city, and allows an unlimited number of companies that manufacture marijuana-infused products. We are glad to see the council take a measured approach and not reflexively shun the burgeoning cannabis industry like some cities have done.

But retail cannabis dispensaries are, for the time being, still prohibited under the city’s ordinance, something that officials said could be revisited in the future. We encourage the city to revisit this decision sooner than later to ensure residents are able to take full advantage of the new state law and so that the city can capture as much sales tax revenue as possible.

Some officials expressed concerns that dispensaries could become a magnet for crime, or would result in more underage access to cannabis products. But according to a city staff report, the data is inconclusive; research into recreational dispensaries in places like Colorado and Washington and medical dispensaries in California did not show a measurable increase in crime.

Cannabis dispensaries typically employ advanced security measures, and their inventory is usually no more valuable than that of a jewelery store or an electronics shop, making them no more attractive for criminals than other businesses.

Banning dispensaries will not keep Petaluma residents from using cannabis, a product that is now legal according to California law, but is still illegal under federal law. It will only encourage residents to seek cannabis from permitted dispensaries in other localities like Cotati. Indeed, since the county allows dispensaries, an operator could open up shop in the unincorporated area just outside Petaluma and capitalize on the city’s customer base.

In that scenario, Petaluma would lose out on the prospective windfall in sales tax revenue that the legal marketplace promised. Part of the incentive of bringing the cannabis industry out of the shadows was the ability of governments to tax the product, generating revenues that could be used to fund city services like road repairs. Certainly a cash-strapped city like Petaluma could find plenty of good uses for the tax revenue that a cannabis dispensary would generate.

We’re encouraged that Petaluma has taken a prudent approach to regulating cannabis, including delivery services and manufacturing facilities. But in order to fully capitalize on cannabis’ tax potential and provide the service that Petaluma voters overwhelmingly supported, the city should also consider allowing a retail dispensary.