CA: Fairfax Pot Bloc Eyes Ballot To Break Regulatory Stasis

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Photo Credit: Associated Press

A former Fairfax councilman is looking to jumpstart the recreational cannabis industry in town, saying officials are not moving fast enough.

Lew Tremaine, who served 12 years on the council and is the operations consultant for Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, proposes to replace the town’s medical marijuana regulations to also allow recreational cannabis sales and other related activities, such as consumption events.

Tremaine hopes to collect at least 546 signatures needed on a petition to get a measure on an upcoming ballot. He said that he doesn’t like the direction town officials are headed with cannabis regulations and he’s tired of waiting.

Proposition 64, which legalized recreational marijuana under state law, won the support of 56.1 percent of voters statewide and 76 percent in Fairfax.

“I’m not sure why California is not listening to the voters,” Tremaine said. “So I decided to do what Fairfax has always done, and that’s set the tone.”

Prop. 64, which took effect in January, allows local cities and counties to decide if they want to allow medical and recreational cannabis businesses to operate in their jurisdictions. But Marin County and all 11 municipalities prohibited such activities. Some enacted temporary bans so that local officials could figure out whether to allow certain cannabis businesses.

The city of San Rafael, for example, is in the middle of launching its medical cannabis program, which will allow up to eight business licenses for infused products manufacturing, four for delivery, four for laboratory testing and two for distribution.

For unincorporated Marin, county officials scrapped a plan for brick-and-mortar-style medical dispensaries amid stiff opposition from neighbors. Instead the county drafted a new ordinance and is accepting applications for up to four delivery-only services.

Several groups are also interested in seeking approval from the San Anselmo Town Council for a zoning amendment that could allow for a cannabis dispensary in town.

So far, the only legal dispensary in Marin County is the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana in Fairfax, which is a medicinal-only operation. There are also several delivery-only services operating in Marin.

Policy development

In Fairfax, town officials have been holding community workshops, including a meeting last Wednesday, to discuss next steps for the town.

Ben Berto, director of planning and building, said that the town has a moratorium on recreational cannabis activity until October. The Town Council has a hearing tentatively planned for July 18 to discuss cannabis policies, he said.

Tremaine’s proposal calls for the replacing the town’s current regulations “to allow medical and adult-use retail, consumption events, manufacturing, distribution and commercial and non-commercial cultivation,” according an initial ballot summary.

But the plan has its critics.

The ballot summary says only one recreational and medical cannabis retail business would be allowed, and that it would authorize an “unlimited number of three-day cannabis consumption events” and “an unspecified number of commercial cultivation sites,” all of which raise a red flag, opponents said.

Among the opponents is Kelsey Fernandez, assistant coordinator of the Coalition Connection, a Marin organization that works to reduce youth substance abuse.

“Regulation around cannabis business activities involves a thorough and careful analysis of the impact on youth and families, which is why the process of regulating through the Town Council is so important,” Fernandez said. “Uninformed policy can be damaging to youth and the entire community.”

Specifically, she said that the proposed unlimited number of consumption events “would create a culture of normalization which has been shown to increase youth use of cannabis.”

‘Anti-democratic’

Fairfax Mayor Peter Lacques said he voted in favor of Prop. 64, but called this proposed measure “inherently anti-democratic,” citing similar concerns. He also added that residential homes are no place for grow houses. The proposed measure would allow for outdoor greenhouses with up to 50 plants.

“The Town Council is working with residents to determine what’s best for the community, and that ballot measure completely usurps that process,” he said. “This measure is one business trying to impose their business plan by way of a ballot-box measure to gain a commercial advantage for their business.”

Tremaine said although he is affiliated with Marin Alliance, he has submitted the ballot proposal as an independent citizen and this measure is not designed to benefit that business. The current town ordinance allows for up to three medical cannabis business licenses, which Tremaine called “overkill.”

“Fairfax has a population of about 7,500, and a community of this size only needs one dispensary,” he said, pointing to Cotati and Sebastopol, which have similar populations with dispensary each serving those communities.

Lynnette Shaw, the self-styled godmother of medical marijuana and founder of Marin Alliance, said she’s in favor of the plan. She said the measure would help not only her business, but it could benefit growers who can sell their product to dispensaries and delivery services. She added that her business has slowed down since the Sonoma County and East Bay pot shops have been opening up and delivery is more accessible.

“We’re frustrated,” Shaw said. “It’s time for us to step forward.”

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