Although medical marijuana was legalized in California in 1996, the Visalia City Council chose to not allow medical marijuana dispensaries within city limits. Now, with the passage of Proposition 64, which 55% of Tulare County voters opposed, California has moved to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.
However, even under Prop. 64, local governments may restrict or completely prohibit any type of business licenses relating to marijuana. This issue is being debated in a number of local towns, particularly those with budget problems that see marijuana cultivation or retail sales as their tax salvation.
They are shortsighted if they allow it. There are those few who look to make a profit off this drug at the expense of public health and safety and are very vocal in support of licensing such businesses. The marijuana licensing issue will again come before the Visalia City Council in the near future.
Is this type of business good for our community, business districts, and neighboring businesses? Crime is common near pot shops, including assaults, robberies and shootings. On July 19, a security guard was killed and three other men were shot at a pot shop in L.A. during an attempted robbery. Gangs and drug dealers don’t view marijuana dispensaries as pharmacies. Rather, they see them as rival drug dealers.
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When pot shops open in a business district, complaints of the business neighbors are numerous. Fights, drug use and street drug dealing increase in the area. This, in turn, affects the type of clientele in the area for neighboring businesses.
It is well known that homelessness has increased in Denver and Seattle after legalization. Also, drug dealing dramatically increases law enforcement costs. The San Diego Association of Governments published a report finding that 52% of males arrested tested positive for marijuana in 2015. Thirty-five percent reported committing crimes to support a drug habit.
The Denver district attorney warned in 2016 that every type of crime there increased after marijuana legalization: “The Denver Police Department is busier enforcing marijuana laws and investigating crimes directly related to marijuana, including murders, robberies and home invasions, than any other time in the history of the city.”
And it can get even worse. Pot industry profits are used to buy political influence.
For instance in San Diego several planning commissioners indicated relationships with the marijuana industry. They made dozens of land-use votes on marijuana businesses while in these relationships. None appeared to have had a connection prior to becoming commissioners. The former mayor pro tem of Coalinga, which has welcomed the industry, is now a marijuana consultant. In those states that have legalized usage, there are no pharmaceutical protocols such as you would find at any legitimate drug store or pharmacy, as marijuana is sold as pseudo medicine.
Marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Common sense and history dictate that marijuana is still a harmful gateway drug.
Don’t drink the Kool-Aid associated with claims that Visalia needs the purported additional dollars that would come from taxing recreational marijuana sales. Aside from the difficulty of enforcing full payment of such taxes on this largely cash industry, our city finances are sufficient with the recent passage of the Measure N sales tax.
In states that have legalized marijuana, teen use has increased. Traffic fatalities associated with marijuana have doubled in states that have legalized. Homelessness and other social ills have become worse where the drug is made easily accessible. Marijuana smoke has nearly all the same carcinogens as cigarette smoke. It is just as addictive, and it impairs judgment and perception. In Colorado about 40% of marijuana being sold is black-market despite its legalization. Visit calmca.org to read articles opposing recreational marijuana. We will fail our youth if we allow this drug to become normalized locally.
I have been against and will continue to vote against allowing any business licenses involving the cultivation and/or distribution of marijuana within city limits. Visalia and our neighboring communities need to continue to just say no to marijuana and other harmful drugs.
Warren Gubler is the mayor of Visalia.