Reefer madness took hold at Tuesday’s Riverside city council meeting.
Defying the inevitability of legal marijuana and the majority of Riverside voters who backed Proposition 64, the council voted 5-2 to instruct staff to draw up a proposal to ban commercial and retail marijuana sales, commercial cultivation, distribution of marijuana and the outdoor cultivation of medical marijuana.
Based on what multiple councilmen said, a ban is apparently necessary to protect the city’s soul and – of course – the children.
“Abraham Lincoln once said that important principles may and must be inflexible,” said Councilman Chuck Conder, who proposed the ban. “Sure, we can have this in Riverside, but at what cost to our city’s moral and our city’s soul?”
Setting aside the comically grandiose set-up, if we’ve learned anything from decades of prohibition, Conder’s proposed ban will only ensure that marijuana continues to be sold and grown in the city of Riverside without any controls, without any regulations and without any tax revenues.
The chief beneficiaries of the city keeping marijuana businesses illegal will be the black market and other cities which will get tax revenues from Riverside residents buying marijuana in their cities.
Rather than deal realistically with marijuana, it appears a majority of the council just wants to be over and done with the issue and pretend prohibition actually stops people from growing, selling and using marijuana.
Before approving Condor’s proposal, the council rejected a reasonable proposal by Councilman Andy Melendrez to continue the city’s current moratorium so that the council could further study the issue.
Melendrez rightly pointed out that just because the city might not legalize it, that doesn’t mean marijuana won’t continue coming into the city. “There are going to be cities around us that going to be selling the product. It will be entering our city.” Melendrez said. “It’s not as if we’re on an island.”
In support of Melendrez’s proposal, Councilman Mike Gardner noted that the council could study what other cities in the region which have approved legal marijuana businesses have done.
That would be the responsible thing to do.
Melendrez’s motion was voted down 4-3, with Melendrez, Gardner and Mike Soubirous wanting to take a rational approach to the issue, with Jim Perry, Steve Adams, Chuck Conder and Chris MacArthur wanting to save the city’s soul at all costs.
While nearby cities like Palm Springs have long embraced legalization and regulation of marijuana, and growing numbers of states, counties and cities across the country do the same, the majority of Riverside city councilmen want to pretend prohibition actually works.
Soubirous cautioned his colleagues that without the city taking action, backers of legal marijuana businesses could bring forward a well-financed ballot initiative and thereby take the issue from the council’s hands.
At this point, that’s probably the best bet for supporters of legal marijuana, and I encourage proponents to consider doing so. With the council majority stuck in “Just Say No,” Riverside residents will have to look for leadership elsewhere on this issue.
Sal Rodriguez is an editorial writer and columnist for the Southern California News Group. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.