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Valley Forum: Cannabis at the crossroads

Erich Pearson, at his biodynamic cannabis farm off Highway 12.

ERICH PEARSON,

I operate Peace in Medicine and SPARC cannabis dispensaries located in Sonoma County and San Francisco, respectively. Our organization also farms cannabis organically in Sonoma Valley. After nearly 20 years in operation, our team includes over 150 employees, most of whom call Sonoma County their home.

We owe our success through an ever-changing landscape to our close adherence to best practices and an open dialogue with policymakers. It is in that spirit that I offer some valuable points of fact to inform the City of Sonoma’s implementation of emerging state law.

First, cannabis is medicine and has been in California since 1996. Nobody should have to leave town to access medicine. Patients deserve safe access in the places where they live and work.

Second, survey data released last week indicate a 21-percent decline in adolescent cannabis use during a period when 20 states and the District of Columbia legalized marijuana for medical use and eight states legalized it for recreational use. Moreover, state law mandates child-resistant packaging and restricts dosage for edible products. Our children are safe, and made safer by regulation not prohibition.

Third, cannabis businesses do not increase crime. A review of the states that legalized medical pot shows there was no increase in the seven major categories of violent crime and “some evidence of decreasing rates of some types of violent crime, namely homicide and assault.” Instead, they spur economic development in the form of taxes, jobs, and downstream benefits to local business.

Next, a deliberative approach to cannabis regulation was responsible when jurisdictions were wading into unchartered policy. Fortunately, that is not the case today. Cities and counties across the state, led by our neighbors throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, have thoroughly mapped this territory and the state law builds upon those blueprints.

A slow, cautious approach at this late date serves someone’s purpose, but it does not serve the interest of patients, voters, or the City of Sonoma. The cannabis industry is at a crossroads in the United States and especially right here in Sonoma. In fact, a study published this week concludes any rise in marijuana use by adults over the past 20 years is not caused by legalization, but a response to changing attitudes about the perceived risks and benefits. Elected policymakers have an opportunity to heed the overwhelming and repeated will of voters, or thwart the democratic process by delaying the inevitable.

Finally, I encourage policymakers to learn from our neighboring jurisdictions and proceed with caution when adopting aggressive tax policies that fall outside the regional norm. If the economics don’t work, then there is no sense implementing a regulatory program because no one will sign up.

Moreover, tax policies that stymie participation will fuel the unregulated market, leaving the neighborhoods to suffer the consequences.

The future is now. The City of Sonoma has stalled on this matter for long enough and there is little need to rehash old debates. It is high time policymakers take rapid action to ensure safe access and welcome cannabis businesses as part of a diverse mix of vibrant economic development.

It is what patients deserve, and what voters demand.

Erich Pearson cultivates organic cannabis at his farm near Glen Ellen which he uses at his Peace in Medicine and SPARC dispensaries.