If you slept through the past decade, you were amazed by the page-one news last week. In Sonoma County, medical marijuana purveyors lined up to secure new business permits. County government now has its very own “cannabis program manager.”
So much for demon weed and reefer madness.
One consultant estimated that marijuana is now a $3 billion business in Sonoma County, employing 12,000 people — and there is more to come. State and local agencies are only beginning to put together rules governing the legalization of recreational marijuana, a change approved by state voters last November.
In recent months, there’s been a certain breathless enthusiasm for the rush to marijuana — as if there’s sure to be business for everyone. This unbridled excitement may not comply with the basic laws of economics, which suggest that in competitive markets, some will prosper and some won’t, but we shall see.
This moment arrives after decades of public policies that became increasingly untenable. We lived in a society in which many smoked marijuana and only a relative few served long stints in jail for it. We lived in a society in which a secretive enterprise became a persistent cause of violence. And we lived in a society in which people with serious illnesses were obliged to break the law to secure a substance that could help them.
Now we’re coming full circle — or almost full circle. The Trump administration and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions seem determined not to let California go its own way (in more ways than one).
With recreational marijuana now legal, all kinds of people are looking to climb aboard the train. The mom-and-pop growers who advocated for the legalization of their product now must compete with well-heeled investors who see the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a new and rewarding industry. Be careful what you wish for.
For now, we could fill a room with what we don’t know about the implications of all this. Among the questions awaiting answers:
— How many people will use marijuana, and how much will they consume? Until the new, legal economy grows up, it’s all speculation.
— What rules will govern land use? Every jurisdiction will be required to work through big and small issues — traffic, parking, nuisance smells, the distances between pot dispensaries and schools, the differences between medical and recreational purveyors, water usage and the impacts on streams and rivers, pot farms in rural areas, and so much more.
The city of Santa Rosa last week generated 36 pages of rules governing the medical marijuana industry — and we know this is only the beginning.
Santa Rosa seems determined to demonstrate that it is marijuana-friendly. “Unlike other jurisdictions, I think we have a uniquely permissive ordinance,” Clare Hartman, the city’s deputy director of planning, told Staff Writer Kevin McCallum.
Imagine reading that sentence in your daily newspaper 10 years ago. (Homebuilders could wish.) The city has already approved use permits for 11 dispensaries, and 13 more applications are under consideration.
— How do we enforce laws related to driving under the influence and other illegal behaviors? Over time, we’ve figured out how to enforce laws related to bad behaviors fueled by alcohol. Will marijuana be the same?