Palo Alto Weekly

News - November 9, 2012

Palo Alto voters strike down marijuana measure

More than 60 percent vote against proposal to allow three marijuana dispensaries

by Gennady Sheyner

Marijuana laws may remain hazy in California but Palo Alto residents made their position clear on Election Day when they stubbed out a proposition that would have allowed up to three pot shops to operate within city borders.

Measure C, which sought to legalize three marijuana dispensaries and establish a 4 percent tax on gross receipts from these establishments, went up in smoke Tuesday night with only 38 percent of the voters supporting it and 62 percent opposing it. Of the 21,263 votes cast, 13,252 opposed Measure C and 8,011 supported it.

The brainchild of former Ronald Reagan adviser Thomas Gale Moore, the marijuana measure landed on the Palo Alto ballot after proponents of legalizing medical marijuana received more than the required 4,800 signatures to qualify it for the election.

The voters' decision to strike down Measure C illustrates the city's complex and, at times, almost contradictory views toward legalized marijuana. The majority of local voters supported Proposition 215, a 1996 law that permitted cultivation and distribution of marijuana for medical use. While both the City Council and the school board passed resolutions opposing Measure C, many based their opposition on the measure's language and the cloudy legal landscape rather than on the drug's effect.

Vice Mayor Greg Scharff, who led the opposition to Measure C, predicted before the results came out that 60 percent of the electorate would vote against it. He was pleased to see the results exceed his expectations.

"I'm really pleased that the people of Palo Alto voted that way," Scharff said at a political party at the Garden Court Hotel. "It's good for the community."

Mayor Yiaway Yeh said the vote demonstrates the "thoughtfulness" of Palo Alto voters, who sent a clear message that they are concerned about dispensaries opening in the city. Many have seen the legal problems these facilities have caused elsewhere, he said.

"More people are aware of what is going on in other communities (with dispensaries)," Yeh said.

Peter Allen, spokesman for the Measure C campaign, said he was not surprised by the result. The decision by Palo Alto's elected leaders to oppose the measure helped doom it, he speculated.

"I'm disappointed with the result, but given the opposition from the City Council and the lack of any organized 'Yes on C' campaign, it's not surprising," Allen said.

The vote gives Palo Alto an effective reprieve from a complex debate that has involved other cities where marijuana shops have been legalized, including Oakland, San Jose and Los Angeles. In recent years, both proponents and opponents of medical marijuana have filed lawsuits to back up their positions, with supporters citing Proposition 215 and opponents consistently noting that marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

The state Supreme Court recently considered a case in Long Beach that focuses on whether a state can legalize marijuana without violating the federal Controlled Substances Act but declined to issue a ruling on the issue. The court has also been considering three different cases pertaining to the city's ability to ban marijuana without violating state law. A ruling on these cases is expected in the coming months.

In a memo to their council colleagues, Yeh, Vice Mayor Greg Scharff and Councilman Larry Klein cited the legal confusion when they urged the council to adopt a resolution opposing Measure C (the council passed the resolution unanimously).

"If the City issues permits for marijuana to be grown and sold within the City of Palo Alto, it is unclear what the legal ramifications of this could be," the memo stated.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

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