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Palo Alto Keeps Cannabis Bans


On Monday October 30, the Palo Alto City Council voted 9-0 to ban all commercial cannabis business operations indefinitely, except for deliveries of cannabis products to residences. Under the principles of permissive zoning, the city has always banned cannabis businesses – since these businesses are not explicitly permitted they are therefore automatically not permitted.

On top of banning all cannabis industry via permissive zoning, Palo Alto explicitly forbade medical cannabis dispensaries in 1997 and outdoor cultivation of cannabis in 2016. In November 2012, Measure C which would have allowed cannabis dispensaries to open in Palo Alto, failed with a convincing 63 percent voting no.

“The only permitted commercial activity under this ordinance is the delivery of cannabis from licensed retailers located outside of the City. The proposed ordinance will also codify the existing prohibition of medical cannabis dispensaries.” – Palo Alto City Attorney Molly Stump, October 30, 2017

While Mayor Greg Scharff was perfectly pleased by the total ban on cannabis industry proposed, City Council members Cory Wolbach and Adrian Fine crafted an alternative motion to refer the issue of cannabis regulations to the Policy and Services Committee and the Planning and Transportation Commission before returning to the City Council for further discussion within six months. That motion failed 7-2 with only Wolbach and Fine in support.

“Palo Alto voters have spoken in support of legalizing marijuana and it’s incumbent upon us to see that their wishes are met,” said Fine. “This is an eminently solvable problem.” Fine argued that the city will lose out on tax revenue on what is already a legal product, and will deny residents access to a product they voted in support of having access to.

But with seven members of the city council not even open to discussing potential cannabis regulations, it appears that cultivation, manufacturing, research, testing, and distribution businesses will go elsewhere. City Council member Liz Kniss even cited this as an advantage.

“We will hear from the public more about this,” predicted Kniss. “I think we have a great opportunity to watch a city right next door deal with this,” said Kniss, referring to Mountain View, which indicated strong support for cannabis businesses including retail dispensaries on September 19.

“Most people in Palo Alto do not want dispensaries in Palo Alto,” claimed Scharff. “Let’s see what [Mountain View] does, what’s the rush?”

City Council member Karen Holman described herself as “sympathetic” to the motion by Wolbach and Fine to continue studying cannabis regulations, but nonetheless voted against it. “It’s not like we’re going to keep cannabis out of Palo Alto,” said Holman.

Palo Alto is now not scheduled to discuss cannabis at the City Council or any city committee or commission.