With less than a day to go, people are getting anxious about how the election will turn out – and for 9 states it will determine whether or not marijuana becomes legal, either medicinally or for adult use. The thought looming over prohibitionists has led many more conservative cities and counties to enact bans on cannabis sales, long before any businesses could even try to crop up. Some are looking at it as a temporary solution, while they try to come up with regulations to govern their local industry, on the other hand there are some who will enact bans and push to have them in effect for as long as two years.
Normally, we see this sort of thing after a marijuana legalization law has passed. For example in Ohio, the Findlay City Council has just approved a 2 year moratorium on the cultivation and sale of medical marijuana. The moratorium will expire exactly two years after the state enacted their medical marijuana law, becoming the 25th state to legalize the plant for medicinal use. At that point, the industry will just barely be up and running – and the city council has only said they will “revisit the issue” at that point.
While it is somewhat expected for cities who are afraid of legalization to enact these sorts of bans promptly once a bill or initiative has been passed into law, it is unusual – but becoming increasingly more common in recent weeks – for cities to place a ban prior to an official state law being enacted. It has been seen in states with medical marijuana, but it is more common in Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska, where adult use of cannabis has been legalized. In this year’s election, some cities will actually be voting on whether or not to continue these bans – or to repeal the current industry.
However, it seems that this time around, people are jumping the gun with the knowledge that legalization looks likely for their state; they are taking action to try and postpone the inevitable – and it’s happening all over the country.
California’s Pre-Election Bans
California is well known for their medical marijuana industry – and it seems that recreational use would be the logical next step for the state that made history legalizing medical marijuana in 1996. However, due to the lax regulations surrounding the medical marijuana industry, there are many in the state who are nervous about legalizing recreational cannabis. In 2010, the state actually voted against Proposition 19, which had aimed to legalize adult use – and it hasn’t been back on the ballot until Proposition 64 was approved this year.
Support for legalization seems to be significantly higher than it was six years ago – however, that is also much the same around the rest of the country as well. Unfortunately that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still people who don’t want to see the measure pass – and that’s how we end up with cities enacting temporary bans way ahead of schedule.
“There is no need for a stampede,” said Tim Cromartie, a lobbyist with the League of California Cities. “Some are doing it out of an over-abundance of caution.”
So far, the most notable ban comes out of San Jose, who has already put in place a temporary ban against recreational cannabis shops. Their ban was effective immediately, and it has no sunset date, meaning it basically has no end in sight. City officials are suggesting that the ban will stay in place at least until 2018, which would be about the time the state would be ready to start opening up their recreational cannabis market to the public, if not sooner.
San Jose officials say that they are hopeful to have their own set of cannabis industry regulations in place before that point, in which case they would lift the ban and allow those interested in the industry to apply for licenses under both the state’s regulations and their own. As Tim Cromartie pointed out, there will be plenty of time for local regulations to be put in place while the state comes up with their own – so the ban really isn’t necessary and could even set them back if left in place longer than originally intended.
While some cities, like San Jose, are only using the bans as a way to buy the local governments time to put their own regulations in place, others are using them to continue prohibition as long as possible. Kings County, for example, intends to keep cannabis illegal within their city limits.
“It’s a gateway drug and it’s still illegal under federal law,” said Kings County Supervisor Craig Pedersen, asserting that the social ills of marijuana outweigh any tax benefits to government. “This is still a very conservative community.”
Another California city, Poway, will also vote on whether or not to allow commercial cannabis sales and cultivation if Prop 64 passes next week. Mayor Steve Vaus also believes that marijuana is a gateway drug and that it should have no place in his community. He is extremely confident that his city will not only vote to enact the ban, but also that the majority will vote against the Prop 64.
At Least Two Florida Counties are Taking Action
In Florida, we’re looking at passing Amendment 2, which would allow medical marijuana to be cultivated and dispensed to patients with a recommendation from a physician, with a diagnosis of a debilitating condition. There are multiple conditions listed, and the amendment is careful to say that other debilitating conditions can be considered when the benefits of medical marijuana outweigh the risks (and in most, if not all cases, we know it does).
In 2014, cities were quick to enact bans as well – Orange Park being one of the few that enacted a temporary moratorium weeks before the Amendment was voted on, which expired a year after Amendment 2 failed to pass in the election by only 2%. This time around, Amendment 2 is looking much stronger in the polls – well above the 60% needed to pass. And if it were to pass, there are some cities who say they aren’t prepared to see medical marijuana businesses open up in their area.
Orange Park’s moratorium was introduced not as a ban, but as a way to buy time after Amendment 2 passes, so that they can determine their own local regulations. Unfortunately, this would also mean that, for patients hoping to get medical marijuana, they may be forced to drive to other nearby cities that will be more accommodating to their needs until these regulations are put in place.
“I don’t understand the fear here if the populace wants it. Let’s not be afraid of this. A year moratorium is too long. If my cancer comes back and they [doctors] want me to take it, or if it’s actually sometimes a preventative or if you have somebody in pain in a nursing home … who could use this why should they have to wait a year or try to drive to whatever city is ready to handle this?” – Barbara Bujak, patient and Orange Park resident
In Manatee County, city officials have instructed attorneys to write up an ordinance that would implement a 180 day (six month) ban on permits for medical marijuana dispensaries. Before it can be enacted, it will have to be approved at public hearings with the Planning Commission and the County Commission, but assuming it is approved, it would go into effect by December 13th. While this is after Amendment 2 will have been voted on, it is still prior to it taking effect January 3rd – and they are taking the initiative to draft up the ordinance ahead of time.
Other cities that have already taken action to temporarily hold off on the introduction of medical marijuana dispensaries (even though a CBD only law is already in effect and there are limited dispensaries already open) include Sarasota, Orlando, Winter Garden, and it is still being discussed in Green Cove Springs. Counties that have already enacted temporary moratoriums, like Orange County, include Hillsborough and Miami-Dade.
Luckily, all these bans will do is prolong the process of getting medical marijuana to patients in these areas – patients will still be able to travel to nearby cities or counties in order to get their medicine; none of these localities appear to plan on keeping the ban in place. However, it’s unfortunate to see people so worried about not having enough time to adopt regulations, when patients have been waiting for this and they deserve to get a much needed medicine as soon as possible.
Cities in Maine are Also Working against Legalization
Maine is somewhere in between when it comes to how they are handling the possible legalization of cannabis. Maine is looking at Question 1, which would legalize adult use of cannabis, allow retail dispensaries and it would also open the possibility of cannabis social clubs.
While people are not rushing to outright ban cannabis sales in their cities or counties as some are in California, there are definitely a number of cities who are considering temporary moratoriums of six months or more to allow them to determine their own zoning and licensing regulations. These cities are looking at is as a precaution only, ensuring that no businesses will crop up before they are able to determine where and how they should operate within city limits.
However, it will take at least nine months to a year for the state to come up with their final regulations should Question 1 pass on Tuesday. Overall, it seems that Maine towns, such as Gray and Brewer, which have both already have in place temporary six month bans – and Westbrook and Cumberland, which are still discussing the possibility of a moratorium, are only doing this to try and ensure that their cities get the chance to have the final say before any businesses try to open.
One of the things that cannabis legalization initiatives try to do – at least the ones allowing adult use – is to try and give local areas the chance to make their own decisions. There are still some extremely conservative cities, even in the most liberal of states, and those places may want to attempt to continue prohibition while they wait to see how it works out for the rest of the state.
Hopefully, most of these temporary moratoriums are exactly that – temporary. Once the election is over, and we know whether or not these states will even be allowing legal sales, the cities can determine how they wish to move forward. Considering all the benefits that a regulated market has, whether it is strictly medical or full commercial legalization, hopefully the majority of these cities will move quickly to enact the regulations necessary for the industry to take hold without much delay.