Supporters of regulated cannabis activity in our town have referenced the convincing victory of Proposition 64 here in November of 2016. The will of the majority, plus science and evidence, is prevailing over incomplete knowledge and emotions. There is no common ground on the cannabis issue. You are either on the side of regulation or not.
We have witnessed nearly a year’s worth of educational discussions ranging from cannabis history to present contemporary regulatory approaches. I am exceedingly optimistic about the positive force the cannabis industry will be in our town. I am grateful that our City Council majority shares this optimism, and is about to bring our ship in, fire boats and all.
A few key positive points about integrated and regulated Cannabusiness:
-First and foremost, as a former opioid consumer turned Proposition 215 patient, I am extremely grateful my fellow Benicia patients will be able to safely access and/or grow their medicine locally, not to mention save the outrageous 10 percent added tax in Vallejo. Local seniors, veterans, and others that want to push off opioids and substitute cannabis can do so much easier with local access. Remember to turn in your unused prescriptions to the Police Department’s 24 hour drop box in front.
-New and sustained revenue to our General Fund. I am not the only one that has observed the musical chairs at staff level. As the City Manager has indicated, in addition to sales tax leakage to other cities, we have lost talent to other cities that pay more as well. Staff migrations will continue unabated without new revenue to offer competitive compensation. We need to have staff stability at all levels. The City Council will discuss a possible local cannabis tax measure on the November ballot that will generate additional added revenue. Sustained new revenue could lead to reduced water/sewer rates. After cannabis, this is the biggest thing on our collective minds.
-Expanded business activity in the First Street area. Multiple speakers at a recent City Council meeting expressed dismay at the declining retail business inventory along First Street. This area needs foot traffic to be successful, and that will increase when thousands of cannabis consumers descend upon Benicia from up-county, the East Bay, and Napa with pockets full of cash to leave here. I am confident retail cannabis on the far south end of First Street would be a destination that would greatly enhance visitors to the area, especially organized tour groups with an interest in cannabis. This is why I believe it is essential for the City Council to submit to the voters a ballot measure to amend the Downtown Mixed Use Master Plan in order to permit cannabis activity and infuse the downtown businesses with leisure spending by cannabis connoisseurs that will visit our town from both domestic and international origins. Some of our city’s officials want to put this huge stream of cash-bearing visitors as far from the town core as possible. Others don’t want cash-bearing visitors at all. That just isn’t good for business, on First Street or anywhere else. Many notable tourist destination cities in California have welcomed cannabis sales in order to harvest some the millions of dollars of tourist spending driven by legal cannabis. In the meantime, I am confident First Street businesses will still see residual spending by visiting cannabis consumers beginning this Spring.
-Jobs! This industry will be here for the rest of our lives. If you are a young person in Benicia, you can get in on the ground floor of an industry that will give you the tools to work and prosper in California’s new economy, already the sixth largest in the world. This is primarily a younger person’s domain. There are a few seniors employed in it but you’ll find most on the customer side of sales counters. Speaking of seniors and cannabis, there are over five hundred members of a cannabis club at Rossmoor in Walnut Creek that would love to bring their shuttle buses to our town for cannabis, then lunch or dinner.
-Expanded grants opportunities. One of the new taxation categories for the sales of cannabis in our state is the fifteen percent excise tax on all cannabis sales, medicinal or adult use. This goes into a special tax account the state will use to fund continuing studies and public education programs throughout California. Cities with regulated cannabis activity will receive grants from this special account, for various public safety, health, and education programs. Cities that ban cannabis are not eligible for grants.
-Restoration of funding for services formerly provided the city but cut due to budget constraints; such as annual contributions to the Benicia Community Action Council, maintenance of the Commandant’s Residence, and school crossing guards, a program that would have been without funds if not for Phil Joy’s recycling efforts and regular check writing. I don’t think anyone ever meant for this be a permanent tasking for Phil, but when the city is able to once again fund the program, they should. We would still have a valuable community service to rid ourselves of excess metals. Credit to former City Councilmember Mike Ioakimedes as well for getting the program going a few years ago.
-Reduced dependence on the petroleum industry. We are a refinery town, despite all the history, charming amenities, arts, high-performance schools, and festive civic functions that draw visitors here. The people of California have legalized and instituted a regulatory framework for our most prominent agricultural product, projected to generate billions of dollars for state, county, and local coffers. I am confident Benicia’s integration of the cannabis industry from cultivation to sales will eventually lead to revenues that will equal or exceed the contribution to the General Fund from the petroleum industry. I am looking ten or twenty years down the road when the cannabis industry will still be here while there is no certainty of a petroleum industry presence. I believe more business would have an interest in a Benicia Industrial Park address if there was no refinery next door.
-Minimized popularity of new housing development. I like Benicia just the size it is, without adding infrastructure and extending services to new housing development. I am in support of extending Measure K as well when it comes up, with a modification to allow industrial hemp cultivation on our properties north of Lake Herman Road. I want to hand off a robust Benicia economy to the generations that follow us, driven by a clean, quiet, environmentally-friendly industry that will be remembered as the smartest thing we ever did, back in 2018.