After three times voting overwhelmingly in favor of marijuana, the citizens of Morro Bay are of course being asked once again how they feel about the evil weed, and whether the City should allow this new industry, as one other city in SLO County has already done, taxing it to boost City coffers, and perhaps redefine what’s meant by a “tourist destination?”
I would think that the citizens’ feelings are pretty clear by now. We did vote in favor of 1996’s Proposition 215 (the Compassionate Care Act), voted for dispensaries in an advisory referendum in 2010, and also voted in favor of Prop. 64 just last year.
Now I don’t know if three landslide elections is really enough to get it through City Hall’s thick skull, but one would tend to think the message is pretty clear.
In the 2010 November General Election, Morro Bay voters faced the issue of dispensaries head-on with Measure B-10, which read: “Shall an ordinance be adopted to prohibit Medical Marijuana Dispensaries in the City of Morro Bay?”
That measure failed, with 2,724 voting “No,” (55.67%) and 2,169 in favor of banning dispensaries (44.33%). That’s as clear a mandate as I’ve ever seen in this town over my 25 years as a reporter.
In a town that has elected mayors by less than 100 votes and council people by less than 20 votes on several occasions an 11-percent victory is Morro Bay’s equivalent of a landslide.
In that same election was Proposition 19, which would have legalized pot statewide for recreational uses. The measure failed statewide — “Yes” votes were 4,643,592 or 46.5% and “No” voters totaled 5,333,230 or 53.5%, according to the Secretary of State’s records.
Locally, SLO County went the other way. SLO County vote in favor of legalizing weed with 54,247 or 51.47% voting “Yes,” and “No” votes totaled 51,158 or 48.53%. Again, considering that statewide, Prop. 19 failed by more than 700,000 votes, but SLO County went all-in on a losing hand, is there really any doubt how residents feel?
SLO County voters also went big for Prop. 64 just last November, with 57.71% voting “Yes,” and 42.29% “Noes.” Prop. 64 made it so adults (21-over) can legally get high if they want to. And to be able to grow their own (six plants) if they want to.
Last November, Grover Beach voters approved Measure L-16 enacting a “cannabis tax” 70.59% (3,824 Yes votes) to 29.41% (1,593). Talk about going all-in. Grover is already famous up and down the state for its full Monte embrace of marijuana.
The Grover City Council is looking at allowing and regulating cultivation, manufacturing and retail stores. And of course, taxing it all up the wazoo!
The early estimates were that they expected to receive $2 million a year in additional taxes. (See: www.grover.org/index.aspx?NID=327 for information on Grover Beach’s new pot laws.)
At the County level, the bureaucrats are busy on their own pot ordinance. How much to restrict pot farming has gotten the headlines but the big question is will they allow stores to open in the unincorporated towns?
They’ve already shot down proposed medical dispensaries in Templeton, Los Osos and Nipomo. Or, I should say, the Sheriff shot them down.
The City of Morro Bay is also knee deep in trying to draft a marijuana ordinance. The Deputy City Manager, Ikani Taumoepeau, is in charge of this process, with help from the city attorney’s office (billed by the hour no doubt). The latest public workshop was June 14 at the Vet’s Hall. Ikani said about 80 people turned out. The workshop had city officials manning stations that broke the subject down into categories — “zoning,” “taxation,” “cultivation,” and the basic question of whether or not the City should allow retail stores. (The workshop broke this down into medical vs. recreational and indoor vs. outdoor cultivation, among other nit-picks.)
“Most of the stickers in the Town Hall meeting were for [pro] Marijuana and allowing commercial regulations [as opposed to banning] from ‘seed to sale,’” Ikani said after the meeting. “There were some who came up to me in the meeting that were on the other side of the Marijuana spectrum, and wanted more community outreach, because most of the stickers were for Marijuana.”
Lorraine and I went to this meeting (I won’t say where our stickers went, but you can probably guess). One gentleman we spoke to said he doesn’t like the smell. “Smells like a skunk,” he said. I replied, “No, a skunk is putrid smelling and marijuana is sweet smelling.”
(A rule of thumb is that when you can smell the pot plants, harvest immediately, because if it stays too long on the vine it loses potency, or so I’ve heard…) The skunk smell lasts only a few days around harvest time, unlike our sewer plant.
The Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce put on a “Cannabusiness Forum” June 22 at the Inn at Morro Bay. That was an eye-opener too.
Folks from local medical MJ delivery services, Ethnobotanica of SLO and Megan’s Organic Market, which is out of Los Osos, had displays and informational booths. Megan’s had displayed the different medicinal balms and oils, plus several jars of “flowers.” (And no, they didn’t hand out free samples.)
Panel members were Amanda Conley, an attorney with Brand & Branch, LLP of Oakland and treasurer of the National Cannabis Bar Assoc. (the lawyers will be the first to get rich off pot).
Other panel members were Elan Rae, who worked at industry pioneer, Harborside Health Center in Oakland for 10 years and now runs Privateer Holdings a cannabis investment firm; Steve Davis, a commercial real estate broker in SLO; and Greg Astel a realtor with Re/Max Coastal Living in Morro Bay.
Also in the audience was Marie Roth, president and CEO of San Luis Obispo County Cannabis Business Assoc., Inc., a cannabis business advocacy group.
Conley, who is also founder of an organization that promotes and advises women and people of color entering the cannabis industry (see: http://womengrow.com), said there are more than 200 attorneys nationwide in the Cannabis Bar Association.
Davis said over the past two years, he’s “fallen into the cannabis industry.” He now finds spaces for greenhouses and helps sell properties intended for this budding industry.
Astel joked that he’s been involved with cannabis since the 1960s, and as far as he’s seen, it has not affected real estate sales or property values.
Rae cautioned that Morro Bay should seek out the best people. “Don’t try to pull a lottery like in Washington,” he said. Morro Bay shouldn’t do a licensing process where the wealthiest person wins. “You need to open it up to get the best operators,” he added.
The panel addressed some of the stigmas that persist with marijuana, like what about the conflict with federal law?
Astel said the issue is a political one, always has been. And while the Obama Administration was lenient about pot, President Trumpnado not so much. “With the current administration it’s a wild card,” Astel said referring Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent vow to crack down on illegal drugs including marijuana.
That might be a tough fight, given that 29 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana.
As to economic impacts where it’s been legalized? Rae said, “As far as I’ve seen and the data shows, it has been entirely positive.” Pot businesses bring customers to a community, more tax revenue to the cities and “bring in an element of hardworking, responsible business ownership.” But, “It’s all dependent on picking the right operators,” he cautioned.
Conley noted that security concerns at dispensaries are huge because it’s a cash-only business right now. “Liquor stores and bars don’t have nearly the security as a dispensary,” she said.
As for the immediate future, the State of California is still working on drafting statewide licensing regulations, as well as formalizing the taxation questions, and is mandated to have those in place by next Jan. 1, when Prop. 64 goes into full effect. Until then, “It’s funny,” Rae said, “we’re living in a state of limbo. Businesses are in the dark right now.”
So what do I think? As to commercial cultivation, it should only be allowed in “Agriculture-zoned” properties. (We currently have none, but someday I can see us annexing Morro Valley.)
Nor do we have true industrial zones to do manufacturing, so maybe it too should be allowed only in Ag zones. The question for Morro Bay really boils down to marijuana retail stores. Do we allow them and if so, how many and where? I don’t think whether or not to tax pot sales is open to debate, we simply must.
But what about the future? What can we do to keep the potheads coming here, after every other town in the state has pot stores too? You will all think me insane but I’ve a proposal — the City owns a sizable chunk of the Sandspit, which is sparsely used. What if we declared the City’s portion of the Sandspit, on the ocean side beach where we can’t see them, to be “Cannabis friendly and clothing optional?”
Now that would be a tourist attraction!
Neil Farrell is Managing Editor of The Bay News and Simply Clear Marketing & Media. He is a multiple, award-winning reporter and criticism writer with 25 years experience as a community journalist. His “Listen Up!” column appears in The Bay News when he’s got something to say. The Bay News will post several reference documents online on the marijuana question, see: www.Yourbaynews.com, under the “Bay News Extras” icon.