An agenda item that would have allowed recreational cannabis sales within Hollister city limits appeared as a shock to councilmembers and sparked debate among the council, staff and audience.
If approved, the measure would allow sales of recreational cannabis at the two facilities that are about to open their doors in Hollister for medical sales. The dispensaries are Monterey Bay Alternative Care, 773 San Felipe Road, and Higher Level Care, 1802 Shelton Drive.
Under the proposal, the “medical” classification would be removed from the city’s existing cannabis ordinance, and recreational and medical delivery services would be permitted through the already permitted cannabis retailers. However, the word “medical” had previously been removed from the ordinance when referring to cultivation, manufacturing and other cannabis businesses.
There was less dispute among council members at the Jan. 22 meeting about whether allowing cannabis to be sold in the city was wrong or right than there was about the approach taken by staff to amend the ordinance.
The council ultimately voted unanimously to table the discussion for 90 days, allowing for council members to speak to constituents in their districts and see the initial revenue reports of medicinal sales from Higher Level Care, and whether there still might be a recreational market for pot after the storefront opens sometime in the next 60 days.
At the council meeting, Mayor Ignacio Velazquez expressed shock when presented with the agenda item by city staff. He said at the council meeting that when reviewing the agenda prior to the meeting, he nearly jumped off his couch. “I cannot believe this was on here without one person calling me or any other council member and asking to bring this topic back up,” Velazquez said.
He pressed staff, asking whether or not businesses or lobbyists had come to the city and asked for the ordinance to be changed. City Attorney Bill Avera assured council members the decision to place the item on the agenda came from city staff on the cannabis review committee.
Avera said the staff was worried that with San Juan Bautista’s recent approval of a recreational ordinance, there would be a loss of revenue for Hollister.
“I’m not worried about losing a customer base that we’re not in the business of being in,” Velazquez told Avera. “We are not in the marijuana business; we’re in the public service business.”
Because California law no longer differentiates between recreational and medical cannabis use, Hollister Police Det. Chris Wells told the council that allowing sales at the two existing facilities would aid police officers in enforcement, especially when it came to unlicensed cannabis delivery. Medical cannabis sales are allowed to individuals 18 older, recreational sales are allowed to patrons 21 and older.
Council members still felt the issue needed more community discussion, and after Sal Palma, operator of High Level Care, proposed coming back to the council after his storefront had opened, Velazquez said he felt it was a reasonable compromise.
Mayor Pro Tem Marty Richman was equally skeptical about moving too quickly in allowing recreational sales, and he moved to defer the item for 90 days. Council members Carol Lenoir, Honor Spencer and Rolan Resendiz all agreed, hoping to gather more information from their constituents and city staff in the coming days.
The item is set to come back to the council at its March 4 meeting.