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Ban on Pot Clubs Reconsidered as Way to Generate Revenue for Cash-Strapped City

Supporters say as much as $2 million in sales revenue could be raised from marijuana dispensaries

Faced with a $4 million budget deficit and cuts to city staff and services, several city council members have revived the idea of opening marijuana dispensaries in Petaluma. A ban on pot clubs—where people with medical marijuana cards can legally purchase the drug—went into effect in 2007, after then-Police Chief Steve Hood recommended Petaluma prevent dispensaries from opening in the city, citing increased police phone calls and crimes.

The idea was raised by council members Tiffany Renee and Teresa Barrett at last weekend’s goal setting session, and is supported by Councilman Gabe Kearney, appointed in March.

“We have a lot of vacant commercial space in town…and that’s sales revenue that could come in pretty quickly,” said Kearney in a sit down interview with Petaluma Patch on Thursday.

Kearney said an estimated $2 million in sales tax could be raised from pot clubs, making it a higher earner than Auto Row, the biggest generator of sales tax revenues in Petaluma.

He said the dispensaries could be located north of town or on Lakeville Highway, away from schools, churches and residences, as required by law.

“There is a strong interest in it. People don’t buy vaporizers for their cigarette smoke at the Mighty Quinn,” he said, referring to the head shop on Western Avenue and Petaluma Boulevard. “They just don’t.”

But Councilman Mike Harris, who voted in favor of the ban on pot clubs in 2007, said lifting the ban on pot dispensaries in Petaluma could lead to higher public safety costs and could negate any possible incremental increase from tax proceeds.

“We would need the public safety groups to do a full analysis of this idea before moving forward,” Harris said.

Robert Jacob, executive director of Peace in Medicine, a Sebastopol-based pot club, said the idea that dispensaries are a magnet for crime is a myth and said studies have shown that medical marijuana clubs reduce crime by eliminating the need for users to buy from dealers on the street.

“We are sending senior citizens to an abandoned part of town to buy it off of some guy they don’t know,” Jacob said, adding that pot dispensaries are required by law to have security features and often have closed circuit cameras, full time security personnel and shatter proof windows and multiple lock entryways.

“There are more 7-Elevens robbed than dispensaries every day,” he said.

However, dispensaries need to be closely regulated by cities to make sure they are running a safe operation, Jacob said.

The estimate of $2 million in sales revenue is based on two dispensaries with total gross sales of $20 million, said Tiffany Renee, citing information from the marijuana dispensing industry. It does not include a separate 5 percent tax that could be added on any marijuana purchases in the city, but which would have to be approved by voters.

“My concern is on the impacts to our youth… that something that is used for medical purposes be abused for recreational use,” Renee said, adding that she would want a portion of the revenue raised by pot clubs to fund school resource officers, gang outreach educators and other youth programs.

“We already have all the impacts of drug abuse and no way to deal with them, so having some way to deal with that is an important gesture to the taxpayers who would be voting for this measure,” she said.

A cursory survey of Petaluma residents showed many don’t have a problem with pot clubs, so long as they are not located downtown.

“I don’t want people coming into Petaluma just for that,” said Rowena Klar, 48, adding that she would "fine" with a dispensary as long as it wasn't near her home or the city center. “I have a family I’m raising.”

Becky Bradley, a 61-year-old hair stylist said that she supported pot clubs because they helped people suffering from glaucoma, cancer and other ailments. “My grandmother smoked it when she was sick,” she said, adding that dispensaries were no more dangerous than bars. “Actually, I view pot as the lesser of two evils.”

Correction: In the original version, the story incorrectly said that marijuana dispensaries in Petaluma could raise more money than Auto Zone. The writer meant Auto Row and regrets the error.

Christine April 08, 2011 at 10:06 PM
If it's medical marijuna the why isn't it obtained by a perscription from a doctor /pharmacy. All pot clubs are run street people. They should have a pharmacutical license if it's distributed for medicinal purposes!
Ryan C. April 08, 2011 at 11:43 PM
Christine, I think you have some facts mistaken. To clarify, a medical cannabis Recommendation is written by a California doctor who is registered under the Medical Board of California (http://www2.mbc.ca.gov). Dr. Donald Solomon, who has had his license since October 6 1972, now runs Compassionate Health Options - helping to provide medical cannabis recommendations to patients. Recently, the Board of Directors of Kaiser Permanente have given their written consent for doctors of Kaiser to write recommendations for medical cannabis, as they see fit. Pharmaceutical licenses are only distributed under the FDA, currently the FDA is working to lift a ban on the manufacturing of THC. With these new studies & trials done, I think it will only be a matter of time (and power of the people) before the FDA is forced to recognize the benefits of medical cannabis.
Rupert April 09, 2011 at 12:14 AM
My wife is a patient at Peace In Medicine. The first time we went in there, if I hadn't known what that smell was from the other side of the lobby wall, I would have thought it was a dentist's office. It's the best example I've seen of how to run a club: Clean, professional, well organized. And it's refreshing to know that the quality and potency of my wife's medicine is always consistent, as opposed to buying off your neighbor's buddy, where you don't necessarily know what chemicals have been used in the growing process.
"Get high, not Lowe's" April 09, 2011 at 03:42 PM
First of all, the biggest sales tax generator is the auto mall at the north end of town, not Auto Zone the automobile-parts store. Second, if this is the new councilman's big plan for raising revenue - tax pot? - then he is severely underestimating the size of the budget hole and what it will take to fill it. What's the slogan going to be, "Get high, not Lowe's" ??? Not surprised that Tiffany Renee thinks pot clubs will be a tax windfall, I have a feeling her circle of support includes more than a few so-called 'patients.' What exactly is this 'marijuana-dispensing industry' she's getting her info from and as a law-abiding councilwoman is she sure they are on the up and up?
Olivia April 09, 2011 at 03:48 PM
Dutra Asphalt Plant. Pot Clubs. Welcome to Petaluma. ANYONE can obtain a prescription for marijuana. It's a well-known fact. It isn't even necessary to see some doctors before "purchasing" a prescription from them via fax. Short-term vs. long-term thinking yet again. I'd prefer a tax increase instead of caving in to Pot Clubs.
Karina Ioffee April 09, 2011 at 04:43 PM
The article incorrectly stated that Auto Zone was the biggest sources of sales tax revenue in Petaluma. I meant the auto mall and have made the correction. Apologies.
Petaluma Resident since birth April 09, 2011 at 05:45 PM
What if Kaiser and/or Memorial Hospital patients suffered the same reprecussions that the patients within the medical cannabis industry face? Patients from Kaiser/Memorial still receive the same treatment and care from their Pimary Care Physcian, when they decide to use medical cannabis. The doctor at anytime can express their concerns with the patient, in place because of HIPPA laws that have been established. I use cannabis to help deal with pain from back surgery. Cannabis allows me to deal with my pain, while still being active. Other opiates & prescription drugs had numerous side affects. Let alone my young age (20 at the time of surgery) the prescription medications had not been approved for children/youth/teen/early-adults. I have had discussions with my surgeon, as well as my primary care phsycian, about cannabis. Recently, while visiting my doctor (after 2 years without healthcare) the doctor asked a rather simple question. "Sir, you are in great health and spirits. The past complaints of pain & discomfort seem to have subdued. What if your trick?" At this time I informed my doctor that I had been excercising regularly, as well as using medical cannabis to deal with pain. "This is fantastic, I wish more patients were as optimistic & open to new ideas - they would be much happier!" The conversation evolved from there. The ending result seemed to be: This a conversation between a doctor and a patient, and should be kept that way.
Petalumasaurus April 10, 2011 at 02:39 PM
What does the city council do, when the city has become thoroughly addicted to this sales tax and fee revenue, and the need for these clubs become null due to regulatory changes. When medical marijuana truly becomes mainstream as a treatment option, and the distribution moves into more traditional (full service) retail channels, where does that leave this little pot club at the outskirts of town? Recreational pot club making more than $2MM for the city each year? Tough to quit. “There are more 7-Elevens robbed than dispensaries every day” OK, there are 39,000 7-11-branded convenience stores, how many pot clubs do we have? Would it really be surprising if one of 39,000 locations got hit more frequently than one of a few hundred pot clubs? How safe are they, really? Adjust that number for the number of locations -- would love to see that data. I wouldn't be opposed to this opening, if 100% of the money goes to police, drug addiction resources, and school education programs. 100%. If we're going to do it, let's do it for the right reasons (the patients, not the budget shortfall).
Mark S. Petrovic April 15, 2011 at 01:31 AM
You're entitled to your views on pot clubs, but your innuendo about Ms. Renee's circle of friends is inappropriate.
Fred April 15, 2011 at 06:00 PM
These council members prefer local "pot" sales revenue over a lumber/hardware,retail or asphalt sales revenue. So Petaluma can become the "pot" capital as well as the "pot hole" capital. This must be their version of being "GREEN". That will really help attract quality new people and business's to town. Are they high? What a joke. Who votes for these people?
Ryan C. April 16, 2011 at 04:47 PM
Petaluma residents, what if you had to turn away patron number 101 simply because they were patron number 101, instead of 100. This patron had just traveled over 3+ hours to view your facility, but due to improper rules & regulations established you have to turn the patron away. What if patrons 1-100 only made small purchases that suited their needs & budgets, but did not maintain your business? What if you were traveling through town and ran out of gas, but the gas station was only allowed to serve 100 patrons a day and had already reached it's cap? These are currently struggles facing medical cannabis patients and the cannabis industry. I have had discussions with my primary care physician and surgeon since having back surgery in 2006, about medical cannabis. Did you know that the opiates prescribed had not been tested on adolescents or younger males/females? The doctors knew such risk, thus was cannabis was a viable alternative. This as stated earlier - was a discussion between me, the patient, and the doctor - not an outside party. My doctor continues to see me, to this day.
Frankie2011 May 07, 2011 at 08:21 AM
I suggest that these "Public Safety", "Cursory" groups, and our "Elected" officials thoroughly research pot clubs, and how they are organized in other nearby communities and cities in California. Then report back the Good, Bad, and Ugly - as it were. Should be interesting. I think it's a great idea to have a Pot Club in Petaluma! Then the police don't have to give out "trumped" tickets for revenues we never see being used - such as Pot Holes, etc. That's my opinion and I'm sticking to it! Thanks.
Frankie2011 May 07, 2011 at 08:33 AM
This is in addition to what I just posted. For more go to MPP.org In 2009, nearly 1 million people were arrested for violating marijuana laws in the US. The vast majority of those arrests (758,593) were for possession only. Why are we arresting adults for choosing a substance that is safer than alcohol? Alcohol consumption is the third leading cause of death in America, trailing only tobacco smoking and poor diet. “Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man.” -- Francis L. Young, DEA Chief Administrative Law Judge, 1988 In 1933, the federal government acknowledged that alcohol prohibition was a failed policy. It ended prohibition, giving states the option to tax and regulate booze. Its is time to do the same for marijuana.
Frankie2011 May 08, 2011 at 07:55 AM
There is a wealth of information available in libraries and online about medical cannabis. The following is a non-exhaustive list of resources for information. PeaceMed encourages you to research on your own. A good patient is an educated patient. Americans for Safe Access 510.251.1856 or toll-free 888.929.4367 www.safeaccessnow.org American Medical Marijuana Association americanmarijuana.org/ Cannabis As Medicine http://www.medicalcannabis.com/ NORML and the NORML Foundation The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws 1600 K Street, NW Suite 501 Washington, DC 20006-2832 Phone: (202) 483-5500 Fax: (202) 483-0057 www.norml.org Proposition 215 – The first step in legalizing cannabis in California: http://vote96.ss.ca.gov/bp/215.htm Medical Marijuana Pro/Con – for the devil’s advocate in us all: http://www.medicalmarijuanaprocon.org/ Report by the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base http://www.medmjscience.org/Media/pdf/marimed.pdf Report from the American Medical Association on medical cannabi: http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/category/13625.html Science of Medical Marijuana http://www.medmjscience.org/ City of Sebastopol http://www.ci.sebastopol.ca.us/ Senate Bill 420 – Why PeaceMed can exist legally under state law: http://www.chrisconrad.com/expert.witness/sb420-03.htm Sonoma Alliance for Medical Marijuana http://www.samm.net/

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