Pot – Not
At last week’s City Council meeting, what was expected to be a routine motion to renew Santa Clara’s moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries turned into a two-hour discussion that highlighted the confusion and contradictions following in the wake of California’s medical marijuana law (1996’s Prop 215).
The immediate issue in Santa Clara, however, isn’t marijuana use but zoning – something that undoubtedly disappointed local TV news staff, cameras in hand, looking to capture reefer madness in Santa Clara. As Council member Pat Kolstad put it, “Prop 215 is the law in California and we have to comply with it – those issues aren’t on the table. What we’re here to do is to consider this ordinance.”
The zoning question concerns Angel’s Care (www.angelscarecollective.com), a medical marijuana collective operating since 2009 in the north Santa Clara area zoned “light industrial.” The operation violates Santa Clara zoning ordinances because the zoning designation doesn’t permit retail businesses. The cooperative has been repeatedly cited by city zoning officials for zoning violations and fined $1,000/week. The citations were upheld by Santa Clara County superior court.
In 1996 California voters approved Prop 215 decriminalizing marijuana for medical use and allowing its distribution through not-for-profit patient cooperatives. Federal drug laws categorizing marijuana as a Schedule I drug – no currently accepted medical use – remain in effect.
State law, so far, leaves regulation of medical marijuana dispensaries to local governments. In the Bay Area, Berkeley, Hayward, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, and San Mateo permit medical marijuana dispensaries. Santa Clara, however, does not. “[Due to] the uncertainty between state and federal enforcement, the costs of regulating would be much less predictable than other types of business,” explained City Attorney Elizabeth Silver.
Highlighting these ambiguities, in October the South Bay region of the Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement raided Angel’s Care twice, alleging that it was a for-profit business. The cooperative’s operators and members deny this. Nine people were arrested and a reported 100 pounds of marijuana, as well as two freezers of marijuana “edibles, was seized.
Nearly two dozen people addressed the City Council Tuesday night in favor of allowing Angel’s Care to continue operation in Santa Clara. “I’m not advocating for or against this,” said Santa Clara resident Eric Stroker, suggestiong that the matter should be resolved by public referendum. “The people spoke clearly last year” on measure J.
The Council approved the marijuana moratorium, with only Jamie McLeod opposing. “Until the state comes out with how this issue should be regulated that the city shouldn’t take on that [enforcement] burden,” said Council Member Pat Mahan. “Prop 215 was well-intentioned, but it has a lot of flaws.”
Proposed Assembly District Would Unite Santa Clara
Last month the city wrote to California’s Citizens Redistricting Commission emphasizing the importance of uniting the city in a single legislative district.
In 2001, the city was split between the 22nd Assembly District, which includes Sunnyvale and Mountain View, and the 24th Assembly District, which includes San Jose and Campbell. Santa Clara challenged the redistricting as “illogical,” but the state Supreme Court didn’t agree. Some said at the time that the “odd shaped” districts were intended to divide Asian-American voters, while others say it was designed to hobble Steve Poisner’s political aspirations.
Under the first draft of the new redistricting plan, Santa Clara will be reunited. However, one plan puts the city in a legislative district with Campbell, Los Gatos, and Saratoga, according to Santa Clara resident and Parks & Rec Commissioner Mike O’Halloran, who has been following the issue closely and made the initial request for the city to weigh in on the matter.
An alternative plan includes Santa Clara in a district with Mountain View and Sunnyvale – a better plan, says O’Halloran. “It would be good to have an assembly district focused on common issues such as El Camino Real,” he told the City Council on July 5.
The Venerable Gerrymander
Gerrymandering is hardly a new phenomenon in the South Bay.
“In the last gerrymander of the state by the Republican majority of the legislature,” wrote the Sept. 27, 1904 San Jose Evening News, “they took two or three of the strongest Republican assembly districts out of the Fifth and added them to the Fourth so as to make things safer for Julius Kahn.”
Kahn was a longtime San Francisco congressman who helped draft the Selective Draft Act of 1917.