Why did San Jose approve a temporary pot sale ban?

As the state prepares to vote on legalization, the city of San Jose temporarily banned pot, saying it needed time to decide how to regulate the industry. 

Gillian Flaccu/AP/File
A marijuana plant awaits judging in the Oregon Cannabis contest at the Oregon State Fair.

When California voters go to the polls on Tuesday, they’ll be asked for their views on everything from bilingual education to recreational marijuana legalization. Anticipating a "yes" vote on marijuana, San Jose officials have approved a temporary ban on pot sales.

The temporary ban will give city government in San Jose time to figure out what it will allow and how it will regulate the industry, officials say. The ban is expected to last until 2018, when the majority of Proposition 64 provisions legalizing recreational marijuana would go into force. By that time, the city should have its own set of rules governing pot use and sales. 

San Jose, the third-largest city in California, joins many other cities across the state who have already banned pot ahead of the legalization vote. For many areas, it’s about making sure that recreational pot is sufficiently controlled. For others, officials say banning marijuana locally will protect their communities from social issues that they say outweigh any potential benefits.

Medical marijuana was legalized in California in 1996. In the intervening 20 years, San Jose has struggled to gain control over the industry. Physicians say efforts to limit pot dispensaries to 16 sanctioned shops have not been successful.

“Right now there are a number of illegal medical marijuana dispensaries and delivery services in the city,” Benson Hausman, executive director of Elemental Wellness, one of San Jose’s 16 sanctioned pot shops, told the Mercury News. 

To Mr. Hausman, that shows that bans don't work. But San Jose officials hope imposing a temporary ban now will prevent the proliferation of illegal sources of pot that occurred last time, with shops appearing near schools and homes. Councilman Pierlugi Oliverio, who began the tax and regulation process for medical marijuana back in 2009, suggested that the example of states that have already legalized recreational marijuana may be instructive.

“I think we should look at what Colorado, Oregon, and Washington are doing. Let’s look at what worked for them and use it as a guide on where [recreational marijuana shops] should be located,” he told the Mercury News.

The desire to get regulations in place has spurred other cities to impose temporary bans, too. Blue Lake, a city 300 miles north of San Francisco, may revisit the ban once it has a legal framework to control pot use, mayor Michelle McCall-Wallace told the Associated Press.

“It all came pretty quickly, and we didn’t have time to study the zoning issues,” she explained.

But Tim Cromartie, a lobbyist for the League of California Cities, said that the bans represent “an overabundance of caution.” Cities would have plenty of time to formulate their own regulations and impose taxes before Proposition 64 would take effect, he countered. And some argue bans could hurt local economies, which would benefit from tax revenues on the drug.

Local bans are allowed even if recreational marijuana legalization passes — and some areas are planning to keep theirs. Kings County supervisor Craig Pedersen told the Associated Press that marijuana is “still a gateway drug,” noting that it remains illegal under federal law. 

So far, 23 California cities and five counties have formally asked voters to oppose the measure, with law enforcement agencies saying that marijuana encourages crime and dangerous driving.

Material from the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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