Earlier this month, the Alameda City Council voted 4-1 in favor of a referral from Mayor Trish Herrera Spencer to instruct staff to draft preliminary ordinances that would reverse the ban on cannabis cultivation and dispensaries within the city, and replace them with a regulatory framework that will allow the city to support an array of cannabis related businesses (cultivation, product manufacturing, lab testing, and retail dispensaries); additionally, the mayor’s referral instructs staff to consider preferences for Alameda residents who own and operate these businesses.
The mayor’s referral hits exactly the right tone for several reasons. Cannabis legalization has led to a variety of positive societal outcomes for cities that have implemented proper regulations. Cannabis cultivation and distribution are high-margin businesses that generate substantial tax revenues which are often used for positive governmental programs such as education, low income housing, public safety, etc. With half a decade of evidence from early adopter states like Colorado and Washington, we see the following positive outcomes from states that have legalized adult use:
- cannabis arrests have plummeted, lowering criminal justice costs;
- no significant increase in youth use;
- tax revenues in Oregon, Colorado, and Washington have exceeded estimates;
- legalization has not lead to more dangerous road conditions as traffic fatality statistics have not changed in these states; and
- alcohol and opioid consumption rates have fallen significantly, leading to better health outcomes.
Last November, Alameda residents voted 68 percent in favor of Prop. 64, which legalized recreational adult use of cannabis. This overwhelming support for cannabis reflects the progressive politics of the community.
While the city is moving quickly to establish a regulatory framework for cannabis that will meet the needs and desires of the community, our leaders are doing so in a manner that is responsible and protects the culture and lifestyle of the island. If the positive social consequences of marijuana legalization are to be realized, it is incumbent upon all who enter the industry to put the needs of the community first.
It is essential that as the era of prohibition fades into the sunset, we constructively address the concerns of those citizens who are skeptical of this momentous social change. Public safety issues including keeping cannabis use off the streets, parks and beaches; and away from children, must be addressed. Tax revenues should be directed toward a community development fund which will be used for broadly popular causes such as animal welfare, low-income housing support, parks, schools, and public safety. Ordinances clearly indicating where cannabis can be consumed are essential.
Finally, cannabis business owners would be well served to prioritize corporate citizenship as well. Paying employees a living wage, including providing health benefits, committing a percentage of pre-tax profits to local charities and participating in local business associations productively can all help to weave cannabis businesses seamlessly into the fabric of the community.
The voters of the state of California, and now our own City Council, have provided a path to responsibly address cannabis stigma. We have the opportunity, and therefore the obligation, to enhance our communities with the positive social and economic impact so many others have experienced. The time is right, and I firmly believe Alameda is ready, to bring us into a safer, socially conscious and economically beneficial era.
Mark Hersman is managing member of Portman Enterprises, LLC in Alameda.