Editorial: Is a pot dispensary inevitable?

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“The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in an 1801 letter addressed to the citizens of Columbia, South Carolina.

That particular quote is often cited in arguments defending the results of majority rule within democracies; the old give-the-people-what-they want line. But it’s more than a simple trope; despite the occasional bout of tyranny from the majority – typically used to deny disenfranchised Americans like minorities and women the same rights as white males – it’s far more often the case that an educated electorate gets it right.

That’s largely been the rationale behind Sonoma Mayor Amy Harrington’s drive the past two years to legitimize the City of Sonoma’s more than 60 percent approval of Proposition 64, the successful 2016 statewide initiative which legalized adult use cannabis. Since 64’s passage, three cannabis skeptics on the City Council – Councilmembers David Cook, Madolyn Agrimonti and former Councilmember Gary Edwards – had allowed their cautionary approaches in regards to legal pot (not all of their misgivings entirely unreasonable, one might add) to stymie progress on fully realizing what voters had called for when 57 percent of the statewide electorate demanded a narcotic generally accepted as being on par with alcohol be treated as such – an expectation with even more significance in Sonoma, where alcohol entrepreneurism is largely lionized.

Harrington saw Sonoma’s strong support for Prop. 64 as something of a mandate, and felt the City Council wasn’t reflective of where the City of Sonoma is on pot. She’s made revising the city’s cannabis ordinance to allow for dispensaries one of her goals this year as mayor.

And it finally looks like she’s getting her way. On Wednesday, Feb. 20, the Sonoma City Council voted 4-1 to hire the firm, HdL Companies, which specializes in cannabis consulting for cities – to advise the City of Sonoma on how to best establish an ordinance that allows for dispensaries and, possibly, testing and manufacturing facilities.

The hiring of consultants is only a first step, but given Harrington’s determination – along with Councilmember Rachel Hundley’s consistent support and that of new Councilmember Logan Harvey – it seems that one or two dispensaries in Sonoma is looking inevitable.

Despite casting her “yay” to hire the consultants, Agrimonti has remained vocal in her opposition to any cannabis allowances not already in the city’s current ordinance which bans dispensaries (it was unclear why Agrimonti voted to spend $29,200 for the consultants since she’s firmly in opposition to their goals).

Cook, meanwhile, cites an alleged increase in traffic as his main reason for opposing dispensaries – a difficult argument to make, since no location has been identified for a would-be dispensary or its supposed traffic snarl. To use that broad reasoning, one would be in opposition to any new in-demand business in Sonoma that might lure customers and require some parking (take heed, Cheese Factory).

But before those in Sonoma who consider themselves cannabis connoisseurs – the lit-enlightened, if you will – dismiss the “minority of people who are not interested in (cannabis dispensaries),” as Agrimonti described them Feb. 20, as out of touch or ill-informed on the realities of 21st century cannabis consumption, they should consider the lingering realities of 20th-century cannabis perception.

Outdated or not, it’s a genuine perception among non-cannabis users that has been around since medical cannabis was approved by voters under the Compassionate Use Act in 1996. It’s the perception that some dispensaries have in the past played fast and loose with regulations and the law; that many prescriptions for medical cannabis are as legitimate as a $3 bill; and that the general clientele of the more egregious scofflaw dispensaries are little more than out-of-town ne’er do wells.

They should consider the reality of that perception and know that the perception is based, at least in some reported instances, in actual reality.

Harrington touched upon this partially at the Feb. 20 meeting when she acknowledged the concern from residents who have had family members battle substance abuse issues – a frightening and heart-wrenching situation for families to overcome, if they even can.

Similarly, the concern that a dubiously run and poorly code-enforced dispensary could find its way to Sonoma is not fantastical by any means.

The City Council is taking the right steps in seeking consultation on the possibility of allowing dispensaries in town – it’s what 60 percent of the community supports.

But they should proceed with the utmost caution, diligence and expectations if and when a dispensary were to open in Sonoma.

If there’s one thing an overwhelming majority of Sonomans can agree upon, it’s that.

Email Jason at jason.walsh@sonomanews.com.

The Latest Poll

If the idea of a cannabis dispensary in Sonoma is appealing, or not, take our latest poll.

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