It took three and a half hours, nine proposed amendments, multiple motions, straw votes and quibbles over process for the Pacific Grove City Council to arrive at almost the exact destination it had arrived at two weeks ago: a 4-3 vote in favor of allowing one cannabis dispensary in town. The vote on the second reading of a new ordinance came just before 11:30, last night, Tuesday, Sept. 16.
It's possible a dispensary project could come before the P.G. Planning Commission by November. City Manager Ben Harvey said calls for applications will go out Sept. 21, with a five-member selection committee sifting through candidates in October.
McAdams was outspoken against the ordinance, emphasizing that she’s not against bringing in a dispensary but in her opinion it was poorly written. “If y’all want to approve this policy go ahead, but it's sloppy and there are too many loopholes,” McAdams told her colleagues.
Among other changes, she wanted more buffer zones between locations where children visit—beyond current zones around schools, for example—and commercial areas where a cannabis store might be located. She and Peake wanted the council to have more say in the selection process of which company would be awarded a permit, which they argued would make for increased public transparency. In the end the suggestions failed to gain consensus.
The night before, the Pacific Grove Unified School District Board voted unanimously to send a letter to the P.G. Council urging councilmembers to rescind their Sept. 3 approval. Several representatives from the district spoke during the council meeting, arguing a dispensary would be a harmful presence for minors.
Councilmember Robert Huitt, terming out of his seat after the Nov. 3 election, acknowledged and thanked speakers who argued against a dispensary, then explained in a measured way why he was supporting it. He used a history lesson about the failures of Prohibition and argued that America’s Last Hometown has an opportunity to embrace change and create strong regulations at the same time.
“We can set a higher standard in Pacific Grove that is protective of our youth and sends a strong message about the difference between adult access and youth access,” he said. He argued that within the same proposed buffer zones there exists retail stores that sell alcohol and tobacco. Cannabis dispensaries check IDs, retail stores do not, he pointed out.
“We can respond not by sticking our heads in the sand but by enacting necessary and strong regulations that maximize the benefits and opportunities of change while protecting the public including our kids,” Huitt said.
The city may put a tax measure on the ballot within two years to switch from the current arrangement of a percentage of sales as a community benefit to a cannabis sales tax which requires voter approval.
It’s always a possibility that motivated opponents could gather enough signatures to force a measure against cannabis in Pacific Grove for either a regular or special election.