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Editorial: Sonoma and the legal pot Wild West


“Mr. Roosevelt addressed a plea to the American people,” wrote the New York Times on Dec. 5, 1933, “to employ their regained liberty first of all for national manliness.”

That “regained liberty” the Times was talking about was the repeal of the 18th amendment’s prohibition on alcohol.

Whether the end of California’s prohibition on recreational marijuana results in a similar proliferation of “manliness” remains to be seen. But, with apologies to those loathe to pot-smoking clichés, few would describe spending $10 on the dollar menu at Taco Bell a sign of unbridled virility.

Greater statewide manfulness not withstanding, legalized pot is upon us – the genie is out of the bottle; Pandora is out of her box, or insert any other pot-appropriate metaphor in which something smoky wafts out of an otherwise solid container.

So what does the passage of Proposition 64 mean as of Nov. 9? First and foremost, Californians can now smoke cannabis without fear of arrest, or “getting hella busted,” as one of my college friends used to describe. What Californians can’t do yet is buy and sell; residents won’t be able to exchange money for marijuana until 2018.

However, they can give or be given plants.

But if they’re given a plant in Sonoma, they’d better bogart it fast – because, as of Nov. 7, the City Council approved a 45-day moratorium on cultivating marijuana outdoors, while passing prohibitive restrictions for cultivating plants indoors. (Such restrictions include requiring the cultivation room to have, at all times, a fire extinguisher, beefed-up ventilation system, written permission of the property owner, and Woody Harrelson present for onsite quality control.)

The Council approved the moratoriums as a way of buying time so that they could research and consider ways to regulate in-city cultivation without worrying about growers establishing their own practices in the weed Wild West period between Proposition 64’s passage and the city firming up its own bylaws, or highlaws, as the case may be. (State law allows folks to grow six plants outdoors, six indoors.)

The council suffered some criticism at its meeting Nov. 7 for coming so late to the wacky tabaccy table – not only by recent City Council candidate Jack Wagner who questioned the late timing of the council, but also by Councilmember Rachel Hundley, the lone “nay” in the 4-1 approval of both moratoriums, who pointed out that many Sonomans had already voted in the election without any indication that the city may diverge from state regulations.

But, in all fairness to the City Council, who could have possibly predicted that voters would legalize recreational marijuana by a more than 10 percentage point voter margin?

Well, read this golden oldie …

“The Sonoma City Council would be wise to conduct itself in a manner that acknowledges the very real likelihood that we’ll be living in a legalized-marijuana state in the very near future. If and when that happens, we’ll see plenty of municipalities placing moratoriums on the commercial growing and retail of cannabis – would Sonoma be among them?”

That was from this column on Dec. 21 of 2015. Almost a year before the City Council has apparently started thinking about the ramifications of the repeal of a law on par with the repeal of Prohibition.

That being said, the council last week was right in placing the moratoriums on growing until it firms up its own regulations – councilmembers didn’t have much choice given that they hadn’t moved on the topic during the past year.

In her vote against the moratoriums, Hundley lamented that the timing of the decision was “on the eve of the election.” She has a point – knowing how one’s local government envisions regulating a cultural-shifting new commerce would be nice information to take to the ballot box. Additionally, the recent City Council race, with two challengers facing two incumbents for two seats, could have had an entirely different vibe if the council had been dealing with the likely legalization of marijuana in a meaningful way – or, any way at all.

As the 2017 council takes its seat at the dais next month – with one fresh face, and three members with two years under their belts – it’s really no exaggeration to consider it a “new council” from the decision makers of a mere two years ago.

With luck, they can achieve the difficult, but imperative balance of focusing on issues at hand, while casting an eye down the road toward matters that would be best served by opening the community dialogue earlier rather than later.

As to legal pot – the reverberations are unclear, but they will be many. Questions flew at the Nov. 7 council meeting about its potential effects on youth, property values and the economy. Some of the dialogue treated legal marijuana with raised eyebrows and one got the feeling there were some No on 64 opinions on the council.

But the Council should keep in mind that growing six allotted plants in one’s private garden or home is not a far cry from home brewing or home winemaking. And that it would take a lot of gumption for those in Wine Country to lionize one legal inebriant, while demonizing another.

It’s the Wild West indeed. Let’s check our six shooters at the city gates. Sonoma’s “manliness” be damned.

Email Jason at jason.walsh@sonomanews.com.