Time to rethink ban on cannabis

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Cannabis has been legal for adults in California for more than three years now, ever since voters passed Prop. 64 in 2016.

The new law left much of the details to local jurisdictions, including how to permit and tax the sale of cannabis.

Despite overwhelming support for the ballot measure in Petaluma, residents of this city still have no storefront where they can purchase the product, at least within city limits.

Petaluma’s regulations permits two distributors to operate cannabis delivery services in the city, and allows an unlimited number of companies that manufacture marijuana-infused products.

But retail cannabis dispensaries are, for the time being, still prohibited under the city’s ordinance, something that officials have said could be revisited in the future.

The time is right to start the conversation of repealing the cannabis dispensary ban in Petaluma. Just last month, a cannabis dispensary opened less than 1,000 feet from the edge of the city. Petaluma residents now have a local option to purchase the legal product, yet the city retains none of the sales tax dollars since the business is in an unincorporated area.

Some Petaluma officials have 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 has not kept Petaluma residents from using cannabis, a product that is now legal according to California law, but is still illegal under federal law. It has only encouraged residents to seek cannabis from permitted dispensaries in other localities like Cotati and Santa Rosa. Indeed Petaluma’s ban almost invites dispensaries like Down Under Industries on Ely Road to open just outside the city and capitalize on our consumer base.

Petaluma continues to lose out on the sales tax revenue that the legal marketplace generates. 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 now consider allowing a retail dispensary.

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