As pot supporters and foes continue to square off in Fairfax, officials remain undecided on how to regulate the cannabis industry in town.
On a unanimous vote Wednesday, the Town Council extended a moratorium, holding the door shut on new cannabis business proposals for one year, or until officials update the town code. But a crack was left open for the town’s sole medicinal cannabis dispensary to possibly begin delivering recreational cannabis.
Under that proposal, the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, which is the only brick-and-mortar dispensary in Marin, would be allowed to sell cannabis to only medical marijuana patients in-store. But the dispensary would be able to deliver to all residents 21 and older.
Mayor Peter Lacques said that the Planning Commission will still have to weigh in on the proposal before the council could consider adopting an ordinance that would permit deliveries.
“We made the direction to expedite the process, allowing the possibility of the Marin Alliance to have some delivery service,” he said.
However, he said, “I personally don’t see a need to rush this part of the process.”
That’s because town staff is working on a permanent ordinance, which Lacques expects to be up for a council vote within a few months, well ahead of the moratorium expiration, he said.
Lynnette Shaw, founder of Marin Alliance, saw the move as a victory and is hopeful that her business will soon receive town approval to start taking orders for home delivery.
With dispensaries in Sonoma, San Francisco and the East Bay already selling adult-use cannabis, Shaw said the medicinal-only business model she launched in 1996 no longer works. Many delivery services are already making adult-use deliveries to Fairfax residents, she said.
“We’re at a disadvantage,” she said. “This is the reality, so we might as well have residents buy tested, money-back guaranteed, quality pot with the sales tax going back to the town of Fairfax.”
Proponents for the cannabis industry point out that Marin voters in 2016 supported Proposition 64, which legalized cannabis. In Fairfax, it received 77 percent voter support.
Proposition 64, which took effect in January, allows cities and counties to decide if they want to allow medical and recreational cannabis businesses to operate in their jurisdictions.
The cannabis industry has its critics, and Marin officials across the county have been struggling to find the right balance of regulation. In Fairfax, like many other Marin communities, the council last year adopted a moratorium on recreational cannabis activity so that town officials could further study the issue.
That process was until recently too slow moving for residents like Lew Tremaine, a former Fairfax councilman who attempted to jumpstart the industry with a ballot initiative. After two failed attempts, Tremaine said he’s unsure whether he will circulate another petition, especially since he likes the progress that has been made so far.
“At the moment, we’re working with the town and things are going in the right direction,” said Tremaine, who serves as an operations consultant for the Marin Alliance. “I don’t see any reason to upset the apple cart.”
Opponents say that the recreational cannabis industry “normalizes” the drug, which could be harmful to youth.
At the front of the argument is Kelsey Fernandez, assistant coordinator of the Coalition Connection, a Marin organization that works to reduce youth substance abuse. However, Fernandez said that the coalition “doesn’t oppose delivery only.”
“We understand that the town wants to make accommodations for Lynnette and her business — and that for her to stay a viable business that she needs to enter the nonmedical market,” Fernandez said.
The coalition would not support the town if it permits the dispensary to sell adult-use cannabis at it’s 6 School St. location, Fernandez said. For one, the dispensary would not meet the state law that would require the dispensary to be beyond 600 feet of a park, she said.
She said the coalition is also concerned that surveys show that a large number of marijuana users have reported driving high.
“The idea that there could be people driving under the influence would be a huge public health concern from our perspective,” Fernandez said.
Shaw said she understands the concerns about teen marijuana use. But she said she has been a good neighbor in Fairfax and that through the regulated sales of cannabis, illegal street dealers become more scarce: “I want to be part of the process to clean up the streets, get rid of the street dealers and protect our youth.”
Former town councilman Frank Egger said he supports the Marin Alliance business and he is encouraging the town to issue the dispensary a license to sell adult-use cannabis.
“The Marin Alliance has a pretty good track record,” he said. “Let’s give them a chance to stay in business here in Fairfax.”
After hearing that the council extended the moratorium, resident Charlie Hickox said “I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed that we haven’t been able to figure out a way to make it work by now.”