PD Editorial: Maintain the local marijuana balance

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In California’s efforts to regulate legal marijuana, the state has achieved a sensible balance between the competing goals of public access and local control. State and local officials seeking to upset that balance should back off.

An attack on local control comes from Assemblyman Phil Ting, a San Francisco Democrat, who is sponsoring a bill that would override many local governments’ decisions to prohibit retail cannabis sales in their jurisdictions. George Skelton described Ting’s proposal, AB 1356, in a May 17 column on these pages.

Ting’s bill would break faith with California voters who approved Proposition 64 in 2016, legalizing recreational marijuana while allowing local governments to decide whether to allow retail establishments. It also ignores a policy already in place that allows statewide home delivery of cannabis, even where retail sales are not allowed.

Proposition 64 passed in 342 of California’s 482 cities and 46 of the state’s 58 counties, but about two-thirds of local jurisdictions ban retail pot sales. That’s one reason tax revenue from legal marijuana sales is about 25% below expectations.

AB 1356 would require cities and counties whose voters supported Proposition 64 to allow a minimum number of retail marijuana outlets. Jurisdictions whose voters opposed Proposition 64 could maintain their bans on retail sales. Ting spins his proposal as an effort to give voters what they said they wanted in 2016.

Not everyone who voted for Proposition 64, however, was eager to see a pot shop on every corner. Some wanted to stop marijuana arrests from ruining people’s lives. Others hoped to crimp the black market.

Whatever their reasons, Californians approved a cannabis-legalization initiative that included strong local-control provisions. Weakening those provisions would break an explicit promise not to force legal cannabis down the throats of communities whose elected leaders say they don’t want it. Associations representing California cities and counties remained neutral on Proposition 64 because of the guarantee of local control, a stance that contributed to the measure’s 57%-43% victory ratio.

City and county bans leave people in 40% of the state needing to drive 60 miles or more to reach a legal cannabis outlet, according to the Sacramento Bee. A union representing home health care workers is a primary supporter of Ting’s bill, arguing that local bans create a hardship for housebound medical marijuana users.

A more comprehensive response to this hardship, however, is already in place: In January, the state Bureau of Cannabis Control approved a rule allowing statewide home delivery of marijuana. Any Californian who wants or needs cannabis can have it delivered to his or her doorstep, even in places where retail pot shops aren’t allowed.

But this form of public access is under assault: 21 cities and one county have sued to overturn the home-delivery rule, arguing that it intrudes upon local control.

A legal defeat for home delivery would strengthen the case for Ting’s bill. And approval of AB 1356 would weaken the justification for the home delivery rule. Ting and local governments alike should recognize that home delivery and local control complement one another neatly: One ensures access, the other respects local autonomy. This delicate balance should be left undisturbed.

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