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MV council OKs retail pot sales despite protests

The city of Mountain View will allow retail sales of marijuana, following last week’s city council approval of a new ordinance regulating such sales.

Council members, divided on the number of marijuana retailers to allow, ultimately compromised on permitting two storefronts and two delivery services. The businesses would be vetted and selected through a lottery system.

The Oct. 2 decision came after a long public hearing, capping months of discussion and outreach. A city survey showed approximately one-third of residents favored unlimited sales, another third opposed any sales and another third backed limited sales. Nearly two-thirds of Mountain View voters approved Proposition 64 in 2016, which legalized recreational cannabis use statewide.

An intense debate waged over whether allowing retail cannabis businesses would create a slippery slope leading to increased crime, poor influence on youth and overall degradation of community. The vast majority of the 60-plus speakers at last week’s meeting opposed retail sales, many of them citing concerns over exposing their children.

One father put it succinctly: “Keep illegal drugs away from our kids.”

Although states such as California and Colorado have legalized cannabis, it remains illegal under federal law.

A few speakers pointed out that other nearby cities, including Los Altos, have rejected cannabis retail sales and Mountain View should do the same. (Los Altos council members were scheduled to consider an ordinance at Tuesday night’s meeting banning retail sales but allowing deliveries. The meeting occurred after the Town Crier’s deadline.)

“Do we want to be known as the marijuana capital of the Peninsula?” one man asked.

Comprehensive approach

Some council members expressed surprise at the often-dramatic opposition – a few speakers describing scenes of pot stores with smoke wafting out of their confines, tempting their children and creating a climate for crime.

Councilman Ken Rosenberg rejected such scenarios. He pointed out that alcohol and nicotine are much more accessible, and nicotine has proven four times more addictive than cannabis.

Under the new ordinance, only adults ages 21 and up are allowed in cannabis stores.

“Your concerns are valid and important,” said Rosenberg, father of two, one of whom attends Los Altos High School. “But it’s my job to teach them (right from wrong). … At every party, these things exist – to say they don’t, you’re being willfully blind.”

Other council members agreed with Rosenberg.

“Does crime go up?” asked Councilman John McAlister, rhetorically. “The (police) chief (Max Bosel) says no noticeable effect. I like to go with facts and data.”

“There’s a lot of fear here,” said fellow Councilman Chris Clark. “I have visited a dispensary – I wouldn’t even know it was there (unless knowing beforehand). You can’t see anything from the windows.”

Rosenberg and McAlister, along with Clark, Councilwoman Pat Showalter and Mayor Lenny Siegel, pointed to regulated cannabis being preferred to “black market” distribution.

“There’s no testing of what’s in that product,” Showalter said of unregulated cannabis.

“This isn’t about money,” Clark said, referring to suggestions the city wants tax revenue from sales. “It’s about the vast majority of voters who voted to legalize use and regulate it, and eliminate the black market. … We’re taking a comprehensive approach to this issue.”

Still, two council members, Margaret Abe-Koga and Lisa Matichak, were reluctant to approve retail sales of cannabis.

“People want to use it and not feel like they’re doing something illegal,” Abe-Koga acknowledged. “It doesn’t mean they want stores all over their cities.”

“I would be perfectly OK if we had no shops in Mountain View,” Matichak said.

The council approved the ordinance with Abe Koga and Matichak dissenting.

Managed system

Reacting to concerns over traffic congestion, the council elected not to allow cannabis sales in the crowded Grant Park Plaza, near the Grant Road-Phyllis Avenue intersection. Also as part of the council action, the city will hire an additional full-time police officer and some part-time help to handle administration and enforcement of cannabis business regulations.

“This is just like Prohibition – illegal activity goes all the way down the supply chain,” Siegel said. “The only way to bring the crime under control is to have a legal, managed system of providing marijuana to people. … What we’re proposing is a system where the kids can’t go inside, probably don’t know what’s going on inside, and is probably less of a threat than going down Castro Street in front of a nightclub. So let’s get serious about what the real risks are.”

The new cannabis regulations are scheduled to become effective in late November, after which businesses can apply. The first permits could be approved as soon as next summer, according to city staff.

Concurrently with the new regulations, Mountain View residents will vote on Measure Q on the Nov. 6 ballot, which would allow the city to collect up to 9 percent in taxes from cannabis sales, netting approximately $1 million annually.

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