Editorial: Will Sonoma deliver the goods on cannabis?

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President Trump’s border wall isn’t the only barrier having trouble getting traction these days. Roadblocks to the legalization of recreational cannabis in California are falling faster than dopamine levels at CannaCon.

Last week, state officials from the Bureau of Cannabis Control issued regulations against city-imposed bans on cannabis deliveries – explicitly authorizing the practice after municipalities across the state have, in the wake of the 2016 legalization of marijuana, passed ordinances outlawing such drive-in sales.

The bureau insists that Proposition 64, passed by voters more than two years ago, allows for deliveries throughout the state. Supporters of the move argue that a ban on deliveries prevents people physically unable to travel to other areas from purchasing cannabis – thus, unlawfully prohibiting access to a legal product.

The City of Sonoma earlier this year approved strict cannabis regulations -- barring all commercial-cannabis activity including recreational-marijuana deliveries from outside the city limits. (The City Council made an exception for medical deliveries.) But the Dec. 7 ruling from Cannabis Control would appear to negate Sonoma’s ban on any deliveries at all, meaning as of Jan. 6, or 30 days following the ruling, any Sonoma resident could dial up a dispensary in Cotati or Santa Rosa in the morning and be enjoying a strain of Long Island Sweet Skunk by lunchtime.

City officials this week were still verifying the ramifications of the bureau ruling; City Attorney Jeff Walter will update the City Council on the status of recreational cannabis deliveries at its Monday, Dec. 17 meeting.

But the point may be moot soon anyway. At her swearing-in as Sonoma’s new mayor Dec. 10, as part of the council’s annual re-organization, City Councilmember Amy Harrington named “reasonable cannabis regulation” as among her priorities for the year. Given that Councilmembers Rachel Hundley and newly elected Logan Harvey have also suggested they’d be supportive of looser pot regulations than those approved in September, allowing for simple deliveries looks to be low-hanging “juicy fruit.”

In an email to the Index-Tribune this week Mayor Harrington reiterated her support for deliveries for medicinal and personal use.

“In reality that is what’s already happening in Sonoma,” said Harrington. “Our rules need to be updated to reflect that.”

And she’s right. Last spring, as part of “research” for a story we ran on local cannabis deliveries, the Index-Tribune ordered several products from the Santa Rosa-based dispensary Alternatives – and 90 minutes later, a courier named Jacob rolled up to West Napa Street in a company Prius and completed the transaction right there on the sidewalk. No medical card necessary; ID was required. Heck, the only difference between that and ordering a pizza was that the delivery man didn’t seem to expect a tip. Jacob said deliveries to Sonoma were frequent.

Harrington, Hundley and Harvey have each also in the past expressed support for allowing a storefront dispensary in the city. Whether the possibility of a free-for-all for online deliveries helps or hinders an argument for a brick-and-mortar dispensary remains to be seen. The “access to the community” rationale would largely be gone, centering the discussion largely on the entrepreneurial and sales-tax advantages of cannabis. If the city council heads in the direction of a live dispensary, it will need to consider a plethora of fundamental questions: Who gets to profit from it? How will a largely cash-only business operate? Who will enforce regulations? How will the sales tax work? What can be done to keep it from kids?

Even supporters and critics of open cannabis markets in Sonoma can surely agree upon one thing: There is a right way and a wrong way to legalize pot.

The roadblocks to cannabis are falling. Whether they land gently or come crashing down is what Sonoma should be mindful of.

Email Jason at jason.walsh@ sonomanews.com.

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