PD Editorial: Safety must come first in cannabis rules

Sonoma County has experienced at least four violent home-invasion robberies so far this year.|

For most voters, Proposition 64 posed a simple question: Should adults be allows to use marijuana for recreational purposes?

But the transition was never going to be simple.

And the black market isn’t going away as long as the federal government and other states - 20 at last count - prohibit the possession, sale and use of marijuana for any purpose.

Here in California, state and local lawmakers still are debating, among other things, tax rates, licensing and distribution rules, security measures and banking options for an all-cash industry, labeling and marketing regulations and where to allow retail sales.

They’re all important issues, but there’s another that deserves top priority: public safety.

Sonoma County has experienced at least four violent home-invasion robberies so far this year.

One man was shot to death and another was wounded in separate incidents in the Santa Rosa area on Feb. 8. At one home, a man was shot in the arm, a 9-year-old girl was shoved to the ground and a 14-year-old boy was pistol-whipped by assailants demanding money and marijuana. At the other, a man was shot 10 times, and his family was bound with duct tape.

Authorities said there wasn’t any marijuana or stash of money at either home.

Nor was there any money or marijuana to be had at any of three Petaluma homes where armed gunmen kicked down doors on March 13, beating at least one person with a pistol.

With an arrest late last week in North Carolina, eight people are in custody in connection with the Petaluma home-invasions.

Four men have been charged in connection with the Feb. 8 violence, and authorities are looking into whether some of them may have been involved in other marijuana-related crimes, including a Jan. 26 home-invasion in Cloverdale in which one man was beaten and his special-needs son was tied up.

Investigators believe they were looking for marijuana to sell in states where it’s illegal.

This kind of violence didn’t start with Proposition 64. About a quarter of local homicides since 2013 have involved marijuana. A review of news reports from Oregon and Washington, two other states that allow recreational use, finds the same kind of violence, and trade publications now offer tips for growers to protect themselves from armed robbers.

Residents, especially in rural neighborhoods, are justifiably frightened about being the next victims of a violent break-in at a home with no connection to the cannabis trade.

“How many more of these need to happen before the board takes some kind of measure to revamp the ordinance that we have?” Chuck Pinnow, a Penngrove resident, asked the Board of Supervisors. “How many people have to die? How many bullets have to go into homes, nurseries, living rooms before anything is done?”

Pinnow and his neighbors want the county to limit cannabis farming to areas zoned for industrial use. Growers have been pressing the county to relax a ban on marijuana farms in areas zoned rural residential, arguing that current restrictions discourage people from leaving the black market.

The issue returns to the Board of Supervisors on April 10. While they should seek ways to bring people into the newly regulated market, the safety of local residents must be the highest priority, even if it means tighter limits on where cannabis can be grown.

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