Despite the majority of local voters approving of adult-use marijuana, local government officials generally have a Just Say No attitude toward allowing those dispensaries here.
For the San Benito County supervisors, the elected officials are allowing the cultivation and manufacturing side of the business to move forward while continuing to ban all dispensaries, even the medicinal marijuana facilities that have been legal since 1996.
San Benito County voters in June 2016 were in favor of legalizing adult-use cannabis, with 55 percent approval on local ballots for the statewide measure that passed. County voters in June also supported a cannabis tax measure that set the stage for a limited presence of the industry in unincorporated areas, but not dispensaries.
More than two years after that 2016 ballot measure, county supervisors are rejecting the notion of allowing cannabis dispensaries in the unincorporated areas of the county. The City of Hollister is now allowing medicinal marijuana dispensaries to operate, but continues to ban the adult-use variety that would allow people over age 21 to buy cannabis with or without a doctor-prescribed medical card.
Supervisor Anthony Botelho is the county board chairman who represents the largely liberal towns of San Juan Bautista and Aromas, along with the San Juan Valley and south Hollister.
“I still think it’s something that you can put in the same context as alcohol,” Botelho said in a recent interview with San Benito Live. “You don’t allow sale of alcohol everywhere and unrestricted, even though it’s legal. I think there still needs to be some rules in place as far as distribution of cannabis. And under certain circumstances, right now, it’s not just San Benito County. It’s all the cities and counties in the state that are trying to get a handle on what’s reasonable and appropriate.”
Botelho made the case that in unincorporated areas, it would be difficult to manage dispensaries.
“I think in the unincorporated area, it would be very difficult to have a dispensary,” he said. “We’ll leave that to the city. I think it’s a little bit easier to manage. Right now, I think we should just concentrate on having a good, well-managed cultivation ordinance and possibly some sort of manufacturing being allowed.”
That leaves one side of the local industry with the capability of flourishing, and the other nonexistent.
Botelho acknowledged that the county does maintain industrial areas that are a common backdrop for such operations. When asked about the public sentiment on the matter, and the majority approval of adult-use cannabis, Botelho had this to say:
“You also have to represent the minority’s point of view as well,” Botelho said. “You have to, San Benito County, there’s a balance of resources that we have in law enforcement and code enforcement and that sort of thing. I think the first prudent step is to get a cultivation ordinance and manufacturing ordinance in place and down the road, after you have managed that and have a comfort level, then you can explore looking into dispensaries.”
Supervisor Jaime De La Cruz, who represents the west side of Hollister, said outright he would not support adult-use dispensaries.
“I would not support dispensaries but I would continue to support the City of Hollister on their position for the (medicinal) dispensary,” he said.
As to whether he believes that position sides with the minority of voters, De La Cruz had this to say:
“As an elected official, you take on the responsibility to serve the public,” De La Cruz said. “We as elected officials — I’m more than comfortable that as an elected official, I am definitely going to take the people’s views into consideration.”
For Supervisor Mark Medina, who represents north county, he hasn’t changed his view on dispensaries, medicinal or adult-use.
“From Day 1, I’ve always said we do not need dispensaries in the county,” he said, noting that with a population of about 60,000 people, two of those facilities in the city represent one for every 30,000 residents. “That is plenty.”
Supervisor Jerry Muenzer, who represents south county and southeast Hollister, merely pointed to the next stage in the process and largely declined to comment. Supervisor Robert Rivas, who is running for State Assembly on the November ballot, could not be reached for this story.
Mayoral candidates open to adult-use dispensaries
If it does remain strictly a city issue, the upcoming election might play a major role in the issue’s future here.
Both mayoral candidates, incumbent Ignacio Velazquez and challenger Gordon Machado, expressed some reluctance about adult-use dispensaries but also a willingness to potentially allow them.
Velazquez pointed out that for now, the city is allowing two medicinal marijuana licenses. One of those will be on San Felipe Road just north of the Chevron station, he noted.
He said when the city started drafting a cannabis ordinance, there had not been adult-use legalization.
“It’s not that there’s any anti-recreational (views),” he said. “It’s just, let’s make sure we get experience. The first one’s taking a while to get open even though we approved it over six months ago.”
Machado said he would be OK with adult-use dispensaries but he’s not personally a proponent of it.
“I don’t have qualms,” Machado said. “As long as the dispensing of it is in the peripheral area, the industrial area, it’s regulated by the state and the state allows it. So I don’t know — for us to be that restrictive for medical use only?”