Marek Warszawski

Fresno’s half-baked marijuana plan makes perfect sense … for 1998

They say the wheels of progress turn slowly. In Fresno, especially when it comes to marijuana, they might as well spin in reverse.

If this was 1998, or even 2008, the draft regulations for commercial marijuana businesses unveiled Tuesday by city officials would’ve been in keeping with the times.

In 2018, the plan is as outdated as flip phones or dial-up Internet.

Twenty two years after the citizens of California voted to legalize medicinal marijuana, Fresno is finally ready to remove the shackles and dip its ankle in the water.

And what about recreational sales, which became legal in this state (and seven others) for adults 21 and over effective Jan. 1?

Don’t hold your breath. By the current timeline, that day will come in 2040. So far in the future that people not yet born will be of legal drinking age.

Pending public comment, City Council adoption and voter approval of a marijuana business license tax in November, here’s what the regulation plan will do: allow for up to 14 medicinal dispensaries in Year 1, two in each council district, as well as create special “cannabis innovation hubs” where cultivation, testing, manufacturing and distribution can take place.

Here’s what it won’t do: have any significant impact on the citywide black market for marijuana and cannabis-infused edibles.

Anyone who espouses otherwise is either kidding themselves or being disingenuous.

“I do believe that we can eliminate illegal dispensaries in our community,” Police Chief Jerry Dyer told the council in June when the business license tax was being debated. “I believe that with all my heart.”

Hmm. Guess that places Dyer firmly in the “kidding themselves” category.

There’s a certain reality our city leaders don’t seem to be able, or willing, to accept: Tens of thousands of Fresno residents are marijuana users. Some use it strictly for medicinal reasons, but most do so for recreational purposes or some combination.

In other words, they enjoy getting high. And the voters of California have deemed that activity perfectly acceptable.

So, too, did the voters of Fresno, where Proposition 64 passed by a 51.4 percent majority. If you examine the district-by-district breakdown, the measure won voter approval in five of seven council districts.

The two where it failed? District 2 in northwest Fresno, represented by Steve Brandau, and District 6 in northeast Fresno, represented by Garry Bredefeld (and formerly by Brand). The same Brandau and Bredefeld who fought tooth and nail against medicinal marijuana dispensaries, let alone recreational.

Yet again, the whims of the wealthier, whiter and more stick-in-the-mud parts of the city take precedence over everyone else.

Fresno has so many marijuana users that the market supports more than 70 dispensaries and 40 online delivery services even though they’re operating illegally. While police chief Jerry Dyer (the source of those figures) occasionally chooses one “to send a message,” he lacks the manpower and inclination to target them all.

The city’s draft regulations, which pretend a large swath of the marketplace simply doesn’t exist, won’t change much.

Do our city leaders honestly believe everyone doing business with those dispensaries and delivery services, not to mention the neighborhood pot dealer, will suddenly alter their supply habits simply because the city rubber stamps a few medical dispensaries two decades after the fact?

Maybe a few will. Most, I suspect, will keep on behaving (and spending) like they do now. The police have better things to do, so there’s no compelling reason to change.

Read Next

Even in cities with legal recreational marijuana sales, tax revenues have fallen well short of projections. Which tells me Brand’s estimate of a $10 million bump off medicinal sales is little more than a hazy, smoky dream.

If Fresno really wants to see a tax windfall from marijuana, money the mayor could use to put more cops on the street or speed up lagging response times of the 911 call center, city leaders need to stop grandstanding and fighting amongst themselves for the most conservative position.

This being Fresno, it’s too much to expect anything that sensible. Instead we’re rolling out a half-baked plan, two decades after the rest of the state, while kidding ourselves we’re on the cutting edge.

Perhaps in 1998, this plan would’ve made sense. In 2018, it just makes us look thickheaded and hopelessly out of touch.

Marek Warszawski: 559-441-6218, @MarekTheBee