Menlo Park Freezes Recreational Pot Rollout

Although recreational marijuana is set to become legal in the state of California on January 1st, 2018, not all counties are clamoring to open their borders to throngs of pot thirsty adults.

The City of Menlo Park is one such county bucking against this upcoming measure. Just last week the city council voted unanimously to approve a 45-day moratorium which would prohibit all commercial cannabis land use and outdoor or commercial cultivation. The moratorium is planned to remain in place while City Council staff develops a permanent ordinance, effectively allowing Menlo Park to approve its own regulations around cultivation by Jan. 1.

“If we don’t have the moratorium, somebody could have a pop-up retail spot, as long as it’s not within illegal areas,” said City Attorney Bill McClure.

The council additionally voted on a plan that could potentially extend the local moratorium for up to two years. It asked staff to return in November for a second reading of the ordinance, which McClure said will give the city 22½ additional months to create permanent rules.

Since Nov. 9, 2016, it has been legal for state residents 21 or older to smoke or ingest marijuana products, as well as possess, process, purchase, transport, obtain or give away up to 1 ounce of marijuana or 8 grams of concentrated marijuana to other state residents 21 or older. In 2016, 67 percent of Menlo Park voters approved recreational marijuana, 4 percent higher than the entire county and 10 percent higher than voters statewide.

What has remained unclear, however, is how California’s counties plan on creating a comprehensive system to vend non-medical cannabis. This is particularly challenging for those looking to get ahead of the curve, because the state won’t begin issuing licenses until the start of next year. Fifteen Bay Area cities are set to allow dispensaries, but few are proposed for San Mateo County, according to a staff report, which noted that the city stood to gain significant tax revenue if it permits dispensaries.

“You should expect that such a business would be very successful, given that neighboring cities … have agreed to ban them,” East Palo Alto resident Andrew Boone said at the meeting. “You can get ahead of the game.”

Currently, only one inquiry has been made to open a cannabis-themed business in Menlo Park. The request was for a delivery-based service, which staff admitted the city could not ban once the state allows it for recreational marijuana.

Adding insult to injury was the acknowledgment by City Council members that pot revenue could bring in upwards of up to $11 million in annual revenue to the county. Regardless of this fact, council members pressed its staff to add additional prohibitions to its long list of terms, thereby snuffing out any dreams of recreational cannabis before they’ve even begun.