Lawmakers push Santa Clara County to reverse in-store recreational cannabis sales ban
A public health order by Dr. Sara Cody banned the sale of recreational cannabis at San Jose's 16 dispensaries. Photo by Adam F. Hutton.

Three members of the San Jose City Council wrote to Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody on Monday, urging her to reconsider a recent order that banned the sale of recreational cannabis inside San Jose’s dispensaries.

Pam Foley, Magdalena Carrasco and Maya Esparza sent a letter Monday afternoon pleading with Cody to think of the “health and well-being” of the community.

“We write to formally request the Santa Clara County Public Health Office reconsider the order only allowing medicinal cannabis to be purchased within a store, curbside, or by delivery,” the letter reads. “Retail in-store-take-out and curbside pick-up of both medicinal and recreational cannabis are essential to the health and well-being of many Santa Clara County residents.”

The councilmembers were joined by California Assemblyman Ash Kalra and Sen. Jim Beall, who wrote their own joint letter to Cody.

“The ability for consumers to go to a well-established, highly regulated cannabis dispensary that abides by social distancing and sanitation standards is better than consumers looking to sellers outside of the legal market,” Kalra and Beall wrote in the letter. “Legal and regulated dispensaries are prepared for and can adhere to the County’s Public Health orders.”

In an interview with San José Spotlight on Monday, Kalra said that’s a stark contrast to how transactions are conducted on the black market.

“I would much rather have someone go to a legal retail dispensary that is enforcing strict social distancing, limiting the number of people who are allowed in the store at one time and keeping everything sanitary than to have them turn to the black market,” the assemblyman said.

Airfield’s Chief Marketing Officer Chris Lane told San José Spotlight he’s pleased to have the support of local elected officials.

“We’re absolutely thrilled to hear from our elected officials who are in line with the will of Californians,” Lane said.

The councilmembers pointed out that since voters in the state decided to legalize adult use in 2016, the market for medical cannabis essentially merged with adult use consumers.

“With the passage of Proposition 64, the need for a medical marijuana card has diminished, and adults with ailments can visit a dispensary to purchase cannabis products,” the councilmembers wrote. “Retailers estimate between 70% and 80% of their clientele are medical cannabis patients who have not renewed or taken the time to receive a medical marijuana card.”

An Airfield employee, wearing a mask and gloves, explains to a caller how to access its online ordering system. Photo by Adam F. Hutton.

But top county public health officials countered by saying there are plenty of differences between medicinal and recreational cannabis sales. Medical users, for example, don’t have to pay sales and use taxes and can access cannabis at age 18. Recreational or adult-use consumers pay taxes and must be at least 21 years old.

County health leaders told San José Spotlight the intent of the revised order is “to keep people in their homes to the maximum extent possible.”

“We have received letters from cannabis dispensaries complaining that they now have to provide delivery services to several hundred customers each day who previously purchased their product from the storefront,” public health officials said in a statement.

“We fully appreciate the complexity and burden of re-adjusting a business model to accommodate this volume of customers by delivery,” the statement continued. “However, difficult as it may be, delivery is a far-preferable public health option because it keeps hundreds of people in their homes who would otherwise be engaging in physical interactions.”

But Caliva’s Director of Government Affairs Hirsh Jain called that logic “counterintuitive.”

“It seems counterintuitive that county residents can get food to-go from local restaurants, but are being banned by the county from using curbside pick up to obtain the cannabis products that are of medical and therapeutic value to them,” Jain said Monday. “Curbside cannabis pick up is exactly the kind of practice that prevents physical interaction and protects public health, and was approved by the state of California precisely because it features highly effective methods of infection control.”

Jain added that the real risk to public health is in driving cannabis consumers into the black market.

“What will jeopardize public health is forcing county residents to turn to the illicit market for cannabis, no less during a public health crisis,” Jain said. “Unlike the regulated market, the illicit market does not follow social distancing protocols, and its untested products have been shown to compromise people’s immune systems, hardly what we should want to do now.”

In an interview with San José Spotlight on Monday, Foley said she supports Dr. Cody’s order — especially shelter in place, enforced social distancing and other measures that will help reduce the risk of transmitting the coronavirus.

“But I disagree with her about this,” Foley said. “What concerns me the most is the differential between how drug stores and liquor stores are treated and the way cannabis dispensaries are being treated.”

Foley, Carrasco and Esparza  also say some of the city’s most vulnerable residents could be denied access to cannabis — including senior citizens who rely on it as medicine instead of pharmaceuticals but don’t know how to use technology to place a mobile or online order.

“Many of our seniors have come to rely on cannabis-derived compounds for pain relief and discomfort from chronic medical issues and conditions,” the councilmembers’ letter says. “Today, recreational cannabis is only being distributed by delivery, but seniors are less likely to access smart phone applications for cannabis delivery services. For these vulnerable residents, access to these products is crucial for their health and well-being.”

While not in the letter, San Jose could also lose significant revenue to its coffers if recreational marijuana sales drop. The city collected $13.9 million in cannabis sales taxes last year and another $2 million in fees.

Contact Adam F. Hutton at afhutton.sjspotlight@gmail.com or follow @adamfhutton on Twitter.

 

Foley, Carrasco, Esparza letter

 

Kalra and Beall letter

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