Citing a lack of public pushback to the city's nearly two-year moratorium on cannabis businesses in Menlo Park, the City Council moved unanimously on June 18 to line up an ordinance to ban such businesses from setting up shop in the city.
The ban would prohibit commercial marijuana land uses of all types, including cultivation, testing, manufacturing, and retail purposes.
While the council voted unanimously to move forward with an ordinance banning cannabis businesses, the council is open to reconsidering its decision as the city moves forward with its review of the El Camino Real/downtown specific plan and general plan, Mayor Ray Mueller said.
Councilwoman Betsy Nash was most vocally open to the idea of a marijuana retail location in the city, potentially downtown on Santa Cruz Avenue. "I believe regulation works better than prohibition," she said. "I think it may be our neighbors who might go to the store ... It's not a criminal element that would be coming to the city."
Councilwoman Catherine Carlton, on the other hand, said she saw it as a big leap from voting to legalize – and thereby not criminalize – marijuana use, to supporting a retail dispensary in the community.
Councilman Drew Combs said he respected the voters' clear majority in favor of access to marijuana, but noted that the industry is highly regulated and would require a strong level of oversight by city staff, and wondered if larger cities are better-suited to permitting cannabis businesses because they have more staff resources. People who want to access marijuana for recreational use can access it through delivery services, he noted.
One downside of the delivery services is that the city does not receive any sales tax from those transactions, according to John Passmann, a management analyst with the city. If the city were to permit cultivation, it might be able to generate a roughly estimated $500,000 from a 10,000-square-foot cultivation facility, he said. Community Development Director Mark Muenzer added that there have been a few inquiries about cannabis businesses downtown or along El Camino Real.
Anthony Duhon, who in public comment identified himself as an advocate for access to legal cannabis, argued that banning cannabis just pushes its use more into the shadows and black market.
Duhon presented a special report from the cannabis-industry website Leafly, which pulled together the findings of more than 40 studies from academic and medical journals and publications challenging the concerns that marijuana dispensaries and shops increase crime and teen use and decrease property values.
The report found that crime rates decrease or remain unchanged after a state-licensed cannabis store opens, and that teen use generally falls in states that pass medical cannabis and adult-use laws. For example, in Washington state, cannabis use among eighth graders fell from 9.8% to 7.3% as adult-use stores opened in the state. Licensed sellers check IDs and don't sell to minors, while illegal sellers don't face the same requirements, the study's authors argue.
The report also found that licensed dispensaries do not hurt property values in the area, and that in Colorado, home values increased by 8% at properties that were within one-tenth of a mile from a medical dispensary that was converted to permit adult-use sales.
Mueller argued that usually, when the council takes a misstep, people tell him about it, and noted he hasn't heard much from the community since the initial cannabis moratorium took effect. "I don't think there's enough there there yet from the public to say they want this in the city," he said. "There could be in the future, but I don't think we're there tonight."