Pot legalized, but not for sale in Los Altos

The splashiest new California law to take effect this month, Proposition 64’s legalization of commercial cannabis sales, stopped outside Los Altos’ borders.

Although consuming marijuana has been legal statewide since 2016, and selling it recreationally since Jan. 1, only licensed operators may sell cannabis products. Like many local cities, Los Altos adopted a temporary ordinance last year that bans commercially growing or selling marijuana within the city.

“All adult-use commercial cannabis businesses are prohibited,” City Attorney Chris Diaz said last month, noting that the city’s ban would need to expand to reflect “the full range of commercial activities” now permitted regionally.

The interim measure serves as a placeholder for potentially permanent zoning regulations barring cannabis production and retail.

Mountain View also has temporarily banned commercial cannabis, but its city council instructed staff to study phasing in marijuana sales, which are anticipated to net significant sales income for cities as well as the state. Taxing cannabis sales in Mountain View would require voter approval, probably not before the November ballot at the earliest.

Marijuana delivery services – which function like Uber or DoorDash, but for cannabis – were banned by Los Altos municipal code in 2010, even for medical card holders. Palo Alto allows commercial as well as medical delivery as of Jan. 1, and Mountain View is set to consider opening the door to mainstream deliveries later this month.

The state Bureau of Cannabis Control anticipates a multibillion-dollar annual cannabis business once the legalization sees full enactment. It already has issued temporary licenses to more than 400 cannabis businesses, making California the largest cannabis market in the country overnight on Jan 1.

Federal guidance released by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week cast doubt on how local businesses will be able to regularize federally controlled services such as banking. Sessions’ repeal of a previous, laissez-faire federal policy issued in 2013 under the Obama administration remains broad and vague – but opened the door to future federal intervention in state cannabis sale and regulation.

Consuming marijuana while driving is now officially more illegal – Senate Bill 65 expands existing laws to make it illegal to smoke or ingest cannabis while driving or riding in a vehicle. Driving while intoxicated, by any substance, was already banned.

Other laws of local interest

The intoxication threshold for rideshare drivers was lowered by Assembly Bill 2687, which sets 0.04 percent blood alcohol concentration as the ceiling for drivers – such as Uber and Lyft contractors – paid to transport people in their cars. On the flipside, AB 711 now allows alcohol businesses to offer free or discounted rides to drinkers. State law previously forbade any alcohol license-holders from offering substantive freebies of any kind.

A little-mentioned rule change, AB 390, officially protects pedestrians who begin crossing an intersection after the “Don’t Walk” sign begins flashing its countdown. Up to this point, police could issue jaywalking tickets even in crossings where the green light switched almost instantly to a countdown.

Los Altos police seldom, if ever, enforced this law, but a Los Angeles Times investigation found that Los Angeles police issued more than 17,000 citations over the course of four years in just one downtown neighborhood, at nearly $200 per ticket.

Under the new rules, walkers must exercise judgment, and be able to complete their crossing before the light turns red.

One other law of particular local note may expand access to local community colleges such as Foothill and De Anza. By waiving one year’s worth of tuition fees for first-time, low-income students enrolled full time, AB 19 aims to make it easier for under-resourced young people to pursue higher education.

The State Legislature has not yet defined how it will fund the program, which will require negotiations this winter and spring during the state’s budget process.

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