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Issues - CANNABIS IN BENICIA (2/5/20)


In 2016, Benicians voted by a 63% margin to approve Proposition 64 which legalized personal use and possession of cannabis by adults. It also authorized local governments to decide whether or not to allow dispensaries in town.


The 2017-18 council held nearly 20 meetings to discuss whether or not to allow dispensaries. These meetings were filled with people from both sides of the cannabis debate. In the end, the Council majority of Schwarzman, Patterson and Young (Hughes and Campbell dissented) approved a set of regulations allowing for up to two dispensaries, utilizing the state standards of not being within 600 feet of a school.


The City  also set up a process whereby cannabis businesses could apply to receive one of the two local licenses. The cost to apply was steep - nearly $35,000. Plus, applicants were required to show site control, meaning they had to lease space at the time they made applications. Nine businesses applied in mid 2018.  Since this was new to the City, and somewhat controversial, the staff moved very deliberately in processing these applications. 


After the 2018 elections, a new Council majority (Strawbridge, Largaspaeda and Campbell) moved to undo the previous Council actions. In mid 2019, the new Council adopted new rules which essentially stopped the application process mid-stream, and instituted stringent new buffer zone requirements that effectively eliminated the possibility of any dispensary being approved. 


I argued strenuously against this action. My belief was that we should respect the will of the voters who approved legalization by a 63% margin, and presumably wanted a local dispensary where they could legally buy it. I also felt it was extremely unfair to the businesses who followed all our rules, made a huge investment in fees, rents, plans etc. for the chance to do business in our town.  I argued that we could not arbitrarily change the rules mid-stream. We were threatened with a $10 million lawsuit by one of the applicants, although the suit was never filed. 


Ultimately, the compromise reached by the Council was to allow one dispensary, but to also adopt strict buffer zones which effectively eliminated the possibility of ever having a second one. As of this writing, the business that ranked first in the City process is moving through the Planning Department process in preparation for applying for a Use Permit before the Planning Commission. If approved, that dispensary will be located at 160 East N Street.


The question of whether Benicians actually want cannabis dispensaries will be settled by a  measure on the November 2020 ballot.




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Steve Young for Mayor

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