Pro-pot activists in San Jose have succeeded in triggering a public referendum on a restrictive new law passed by the city earlier this year.
Voters will decide in two years whether they want to repeal the new regulations, which many expect will end medical marijuana in San Jose. The law requires that all pot shops locate within less than 1 percent of the city. Additional rules will force at least 80 percent of the city’s stores, if not all, to close.
The city has tried to do this before. An earlier plan to ban dispensaries was withdrawn after activists put it on the ballot. This time, city leaders say, they won’t back down.
Mayor Chuck Reed has promised to lead a drive against the activists’ measure. And members of the San Jose City Council have denigrated signature gatherers, treating them more as a political annoyance than a genuine grassroots campaign.
“I can’t believe that this actually passed muster,” said Council Member Johnny Khamis, who voted to ban pot shops.
Khamis, like other council members, accused signature gatherers of lying to voters by claiming the council had outlawed medical marijuana shops – even though that’s exactly the effect the law is likely to have.
This has become an ideological battle for a hardened city council determined to prove it’s in charge. Members may learn the hard way in 2016 that that isn’t true.
If city leaders succeed in shutting down every pot shop, San Jose would lose $5 million in yearly tax revenue. And local patients would mostly turn to black market dealers, since they can’t afford to travel long distances to get their medication.
Public opinion may not be on the city’s side. A large majority of San Jose voters strongly opposes a ban on dispensaries, no matter how the city council disguises its ordinances.
What’s more, voters will have at least a year to determine whether the regulations work. If they effectively drive every pot shop out of San Jose, voters could revolt and overrule the council.
But council members aren’t elected at large. Their districts elect them, and districts are full of neighborhoods that breed loud, aggressive, bullying marijuana opponents concerned mostly with how cannabis will affect their property values.
James Anthony, an Oakland attorney, is chairman of a committee called Sensible San Jose, which backs the ballot initiative.
“It gives us an option,” Anthony said. “Is it a de-facto ban? Have prices gone through the roof, has quality of service declined, have patients gone back to the underground market? My guess is it won’t be a functional system.”