City explores new attorney on pot issue

Mayor Ignacio Velazquez

Marijuana was on the minds of many during this week’s Hollister City Council meeting.

Nine community members spoke on the local medical marijuana ordinance during public comment, but Mayor Ignacio Velazquez made a significant proclamation of his own near the end of the meeting.

“I’ve asked the city attorney if we can find another firm to represent the city for the cannabis issue, so we don’t have the perceived conflict of interest,” Velazquez said. “I know there has not been, and I appreciate all the work you’ve done.”

City Attorney Brad Sullivan, with the law firm L&G, said he’d be happy to do that.

There have been concerns from the community over a potential conflict of interest by having Sullivan, a partner at L+G Attorneys at Law, help to draft the ordinance. Aaron Johnson, a partner at Sullivan’s firm, lobbied for the ordinance at previous council meetings.

Velazquez said he’d spend the day after the meeting with a group looking at cannabis facilities in San Jose.

“We’re going to be meeting with two different dispensaries, the sergeant of the San Jose Police Department in charge of the cannabis industry in that city, and a council member,” he said. “I’m bringing a group of about seven to eight people to meet up there and have a discussion, tour and, hopefully, bring back some more information.”

Velazquez said he hopes there’s more time at the next city council meeting to do a cost-benefit analysis on the marijuana industry to gain a better understanding of the industry as a whole.

Hollister council members recently put off deciding on a local ordinance regulating marijuana in light of a community debate on the issue. Locals had an opportunity to share their views at the meeting as well.

Resident Steve Becerra said during public comment that although the majority of people who have voiced opposition to the ordinance are against cultivation, manufacturing, and dispensaries, he thinks those that need medical marijuana still need local access.

“My own sister, who died of leukemia, used medical marijuana to increase her appetite before she passed away,” Becerra said.

He presented a copy of a marijuana ordinance from Emeryville and asked councilmembers to look it over.

“What they’ve done is they’ve ordinanced (sic) out cultivation, manufacturing and dispensing within their jurisdiction, but have allowed delivery by dispensaries outside the county that are already legally operating to get a permit and to deliver medical marijuana to those in need within their county.”

Dr. Cam Arrington, a local pediatric specialist, read from a marijuana policy statement published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“Marijuana can be harmful to adolescent health and development,” Arrington said. “Making it more available to adults, even if restrictions are in place, will increase the access for teens. Just the campaigns to legalize marijuana can have the effect of persuading adolescents that marijuana is not dangerous, which can have a devastating impact on their lifelong health and development.”

Resident Rob Bernosky brought two bottles of water and two brownies before the council during his public comment. He said that one of the two bottles had vodka in it, which could be determined by opening and smelling the bottle.

The attention turned to the brownies, one of which Bernosky said was made with cannabis oil.

“That comes onto a school campus, who here can tell the difference?” Bernosky asked the council. “If you think you can, I invite you to invite any of these kids to come up and sample the brownies. You take the risk of, does it have marijuana in it or not? So if you’re a school administrator and you say, ‘Well obviously this has marijuana in it,’ there is no obviously. There is no litmus test like there is with alcohol.”

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