Attempts by San Jose leaders to impose tough new restrictions on medical marijuana dispensaries continue to run up against political realities in the state’s third-largest city.
The San Jose City Council failed again on June 3 to pass a new MMJ ordinance. A tie vote, 5-5, means the ordinance goes back to city staff for revisions but remains alive. It was the third time the council postponed the measure after long debate.
The ordinance, which has drawn heated protest from patient advocates and the city’s marijuana industry, would impose new buffer zones, keeping pot shops at least 1,000 feet from schools, day care facilities, community centers, parks, and libraries, and at least 150 feet from homes.
Dispensaries would be limited by zoning rules to a few industrial and commercial areas in the city. But they would be banned at San Jose’s premier business parks: International Business Park, North San Jose, and Edenvale.
Minors would be barred from entering dispensaries; store hours would be limited; and no one with a criminal record would be allowed to work in the industry.
“Right now all the dispensaries in San Jose are illegal, but we’re proposing to allow them in certain zones as long as we control the bad behavior,” said outgoing Mayor Chuck Reed. “We had some bad actors, we have to control that.”
Marijuana advocates complain the regulations would make it all but impossible for pot shops to do business in San Jose. They’ve gathered 38,000 voter signatures in case they need to challenge the ordinance at the ballot in November.
“I’m encouraged,” James Anthony, a patient advocate, said before the meeting. “They seemed to be grappling with important aspects for the first time in four years, and asking hard questions of staff.”
An especially harsh provision of the ordinance, which would have required that dispensaries grow all their weed in the city, was withdrawn before the vote and sent back to city staff for review.
Yet several council members said they remain ready to take a hardline approach, including a total ban on dispensaries if possible. Council Member Rose Herrera, who was one of four council members running for mayor in the 2014 elections, pushed for a ban instead, a move supported by Council Member Kansen Chu.
“When people voted for compassionate use, they did not intend it to mean that dispensaries would set up shop everywhere,” Herrera said. “We need to make up our minds if we want San Jose to be the Capital of Silicon Valley or the Capital of Marijuana Central.”
Herrera and two other council members lost their bids for mayor in the June 3 primary. Only Council Member Sam Liccardo, who voted in favor of the ordinance, will appear in the November general election.
Reed pushed back against Herrera’s move and a counter-move by supporters of the industry, though it wasn’t enough to get the ordinance passed. He said he didn’t think voters would back the threatened referendum as long as the city adopts a reasonable MMJ policy.
“I’m not too worried,” the mayor said. “I don’t think the people of San Jose would support a loosey-goosey system that doesn’t abide by federal law. I’ll happily lead the opposition against it if it gets on the ballot.”