La Palma might be small, but its citizens were loud and clear Tuesday night: They don’t want their city to become what one resident described as “the pot capital of northwest Orange County.”
Citizens overflowed the City Council Chambers, some having to sit in an adjoining room, to oppose changing city laws to allow some cannabis-related businesses. Many residents learned of the meeting from flyers left on their doorsteps, calling them to the meeting to voice their opinions.
Council members said they heard the residents’ opinions and agreed to not pursue changes to La Palma’s current ban on the commercial cultivation, warehousing, delivery, testing and sale of marijuana in town.
If the city later needs a new source of revenue the conversation could be revisited, Mayor Gerard Goedhart said at the end of the meeting, but it is off the table for now. Council members were clear they weren’t interested in dispensaries.
“The public paid me to teach kids to say no to drugs. I can see a teacher in 2019 trying to teach kids to say no to drugs and a kid says, ‘Well, wait. La Palma makes drugs,’” Jeanne Culver, a resident and long-time teacher, said. “What kind of message are we telling our children?”
Santa Ana, Costa Mesa and La Habra are the only Orange County cities to allow any marijuana-related businesses, Santa Ana is the only allowing dispensaries.
Residents also asked the City Council that if the issue comes back up to put the decision to voters on a ballot, instead of having the elected leaders make the call.
“Why would you do something that runs against the people of La Palma?” Carlos Alcaino asked council members, referencing the 57 percent of La Palma voters who opposed Proposition 64. “We said in 2016 that we didn’t want it.”
City Manager Laurie Murray said the discussion came about as a “business decision” to diversify city revenues and protect La Palma’s financial stability in the event another major tax provider leaves the city. La Palma residents approved a 1 cent sales tax increase after facing a $772,000 budget deficit in 2016. Estimates were marijuana-related businesses could net the city “anywhere from $500,000 to 1.2 million” annually in revenue.
Murray added staff members also broached the question because there seemed to be a “paradigm shift” in opinion regarding cannabis, referencing the recent approval by the Food and Drug Administration of a cannabis-based drug treatment for epilepsy and recommendations to the Drug Enforcement Agency to declassify marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug in response.
“Right now, we’re not ready,” Goedhart said. “The controversy isn’t something we need right now.”