Weed and P.G.: Will they or won’t they?
Pam Marino, reporting from Pacific Grove, where there are two competing cannabis items on tonight’s City Council agenda. At first glance, it would seem one cancels out the other. A closer look reveals that the city could have two competing forces running on parallel tracks for the foreseeable future.
One item, put forth by City Manager Ben Harvey, continues down the path of a single retail cannabis store opening in downtown, most likely in 2021. The other, by Mayor Bill Peake, seeks to pause the journey for at least two years to let voters decide in the Nov. 8, 2022 election (although there’s a legal question as to whether it can be paused).
The backstory: In September, a narrow 4-3 majority of the P.G. City Council approved an ordinance that would allow for a single store. In that ordinance was the formation of a selection committee—comprising three city staff members and two councilmembers—to choose which company gets the license for said store. Harvey says he received five complete applications.
Harvey has tried a few times to get the committee formed and seated to complete its task, but efforts were paused briefly when a referendum effort was circulating for signatures to rescind the ordinance. Monterey County Elections officials ruled that it fell short by three signatures. (The petition’s creator, Debby Beck, contested the ruling. An audit found some rejected signatures did belong to registered P.G. voters, however the determination stands. The next step would be asking a judge to decide.)
That brings us to tonight. With the referendum effort still in the mix, Harvey is asking again to form the committee. He says he has an obligation as the administrative head of the city to do so and fulfill the city’s ordinance. “That's the law. I don’t have the ability to slow walk or stall or freeze-frame the law,” Harvey says.
Even if Peake’s request to rescind the ordinance and put it to a vote in 2022 wins tonight, there would be more steps. It would have to come back to council as a proposed ordinance, which requires a first and second reading. That could take a couple of months. By then, the cannabis selection committee could have a license awarded.
Peake tells me he wants to put a “pause to retail cannabis in Pacific Grove.” He wants to recognize the referendum backers as well as others in the community against it, like representatives of the Pacific Grove Unified School District.
Ultimately, he says, “we don’t know what the community thinks of retail cannabis.” He believes a vote two years from now will do that.
Is that true that P.G. doesn’t know what the community thinks? Just shy of 70 percent of registered voters in P.G. voted in favor of legalizing recreational cannabis with Prop. 64 back in 2016. Beck has said that she thinks people who voted yes didn’t necessarily mean they wanted cannabis sold in America’s Last Hometown.
Recent research suggests otherwise. The firm David Binder Research, based in San Francisco, performed a survey of registered California voters that showed 6 in 10 think cannabis stores should be allowed in towns where a majority of voters approved Prop. 64. Of those who voted in favor of the proposition, 78 percent said towns should have to allow cannabis sales.
Both supporters and opponents of Prop. 64—81 percent—thought a “yes” vote meant cannabis would be for sale in the area where they live.
If Peake’s item passes and Harvey’s fails to move forward, the question is, what happens next? Five companies are waiting to find out if they get a license and can start ringing up sales. They might not be willing to wait two years and could ask a court to move the process along.
As my colleague Squid would say, get out the shrimp-flavored popcorn and watch what happens next. You can tune into the meeting tonight at 6pm.
-Pam Marino, staff writer, firstname.lastname@example.org