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Petaluma reacts to legal cannabis

By Eric Gneckow/Argus-Courier Staff

Several California cities rushed to adopt last-minute regulations on recreational marijuana before state voters legalized its use and sale on Nov. 8. But the Petaluma City Council, when faced with the same choice in the hours before the election, took a different tact — chill out.

One day before California’s Proposition 64 would pass, council members in Petaluma expressed a unanimous desire to forgo an urgency ordinance that would have put a temporary moratorium on commercial recreational marijuana activities within city limits. Subsequent votes could have extended the moratorium for up to two years.

While retail sales won’t be authorized under the statewide measure until at least January 2018, cities like San Jose, Davis, Hayward and others still moved to pass emergency bans in the lead up to the election. Petaluma City Attorney Eric Danly described the measure as one of abundant caution as the city debated longer-term policies, but elected officials expressed concern that adopting a ban could preempt the will of voters while appearing to rush regulation in a high-interest area.

The council is expected to hear an update on the new law’s impact next week, with a chance to reconsider a temporary ban on Dec. 5.

“My opposition to this has nothing to do with marijuana. It has a lot to do with people having the right to vote on an issue,” said Councilwoman Teresa Barrett, who argued a ban would essentially nullify a passage of Prop. 64. “I think that kind of legislation or action on the part of government is exactly why people think their votes don’t matter.”

The measure was the latest marijuana-related regulation to go before the Petaluma City Council, which passed rules allowing limited cultivation of medical marijuana in January. Petaluma banned medical marijuana dispensaries in 2007.

Known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, or AUMA, Prop. 64 allows California residents 21 and older to possess an ounce of marijuana and grow six plants. It is not yet possible to buy marijuana without a doctor’s recommendation, and it will take more than a year before the state begins to issue licenses for related businesses.

The act does allow individual jurisdictions to ban commercial marijuana activity within their boundaries, but not to entirely ban consumption of the psychoactive drug. Rules can still restrict the public areas where consumption is allowed, and laws like those against driving under the influence of marijuana remain in effect.

Noting that public hearings over Petaluma’s medical marijuana rules attracted a large amount of interest, Councilwoman Kathy Miller called for a methodical approach to rules Petaluma might adopt in response to the passage of Prop. 64.

“I am loathe to adopt this with virtually no notice,” she said.

On the same night that Petaluma elected officials passed on the urgency ordinance, the Sonoma City Council voted 4-1 to ratify an emergency ban on outdoor marijuana cultivation. That city already prohibited the outdoor cultivation of medical marijuana, but passed the temporary ban to preclude recreational grows as well.

Two years in the making, Petaluma’s medical marijuana regulations allow card-carrying patients or their caregivers to grow three mature plants and an unlimited number of immature plants outdoors for the patient’s own use. The rules also allow indoor growing.

The medical marijuana rules in Petaluma do not address recreational pot at all, including on the subject of outdoor cultivation, the city attorney said.

He suggested that the issue be brought back before the council in a few weeks, before the results were certified. Others on the council agreed.

“I understand the time sensitivity, but I think the public would be surprised that we did this,” Healy said of the moratorium.

City Manager John Brown said he would return to the council for direction on a possible moratorium on Nov. 21, and that the item might return for a vote on Dec. 5.

“I think we can use the couple of weeks between now and then to get a little better handle on what all of this means,” Brown said.

(Contact Eric Gneckow at eric.gneckow@arguscourier.com. On Twitter @Eric_Reports.)