Jason Walsh: Sonoma cannabis initiative up in smoke
Democracy is like the weather: Everybody talks about it, but nobody ever does anything about it.
That much was true July 23 when the Sonoma City Council put the kibosh on a signature-qualified Nov. 6 ballot initiative to let the voters decide whether cannabis dispensaries should be licensed within the city limits.
Such a community referendum was in play after cannabis activist and dispensary hopeful Jon Early gathered 767 valid signatures for a ballot initiative to allow for commercial use, cultivation and manufacturing of cannabis in Sonoma – a staunch rebuff of the council’s three-member majority who have generally agreed with Councilmember David Cook’s concern that a dispensary would be a stain upon Sonoma, the “jewel of Sonoma County” (Said jewel is clearly not emerald.)
But in a vote of 3-2 – with councilmembers Amy Harrington and Rachel Hundley dissenting – the council quashed any possibility of such a decision winding up in the hands of the voters when it called for a 30-day “study” on the proposal – killing its chances of meeting the deadline to qualify for the November ballot.
It was the safest move for the council’s cannabis skeptics – Cook, Gary Edwards and Mayor Madolyn Agrimonti. After all, you never know what the voters may do when given the chance. Heck, 64 percent of Sonoma voters were in favor of Proposition 64’s statewide legalization of the loco weed, and Mr. Early gathered more than enough pro-dispensary signatures necessary by a comfortable margin.
The three-member council majority may have thought: Whoa, the voters may actually pass this thing.
Not wanting that to happen, they instead voted to spend $10,000 to $25,000 to kill the initiative with a “study.”
The above use of quotation marks around “study” is no AP style point. Because gathering more information about the issue is not the council’s goal. The city has already studied the effects of the commercialization of legal pot; it’s spent the past two years placing moratoriums on its cultivation and commercial use while consultants pocketed ample sums mentoring city officials about a post-Prop. 64 world. Councilmember Edwards on July 23 even suggested re-hiring the consultants from the last study for the new study because they’d already be up to speed.
And when City Attorney Jeff Walter asked the three councilmembers what specifically they’d like to study about the initiative, Cook and Mayor Madolyn Agrimonti had no direction to offer, though they did support Edwards’ list of concerns, which primarily questioned the economic benefits of, and ability of enforcement for, legal marijuana. (Both valid questions, though neither are the responsibility of this initiative to answer.)
This vote wasn’t about a study of the initiative – however, the city will have to fork over $10K to $25K for the pretense. Nor was it about placing an initiative more to the council’s liking on the ballot.
That much was clear when Councilmember Hundley, who felt Mr. Early’s proposal was flawed, introduced a rough draft of her own competing ballot initiative (which would have licensed a single dispensary based on responses to a city RFP) for her colleagues’ consideration.
It garnered zero discussion at the dais.
No, this was not about a study, or drafting an improved dispensary initiative: This vote was about ensuring no dispensary initiative comes to the November ballot, period. At least that’s what the Sonoma County Democratic Party had to say about it.