Hollister cannabis debate drags on

Council wants another public forum before voting

Two cannabis dispensaries are preparing to open in Hollister, but the City Council is still reluctant to approve the sale of recreational cannabis. No council member made a motion on the issue at an April 22 meeting, preferring instead to schedule another public forum on the topic.

The outcome of more than a year of wrangling may be a foregone conclusion, as council members voiced support for allowing cannabis sales to all adults in the city—but they continue to balk at taking a vote. Mayor Ignacio Velazquez said repeatedly during the April 22 meeting that he wanted to ensure the ordinance was “done right” before he would support a vote.

A public input session on cannabis in Hollister was held March 14 at the Veteran’s Memorial building, but Velazquez and councilmember Rolan Resendiz didn’t attend. They said they had not been aware of the meeting.

The pair, new allies on most issues, asked for another public meeting ahead of any vote on the matter.  

City staff presented proposed changes to the city’s existing cannabis ordinance meeting. The biggest proposed change was the removal of the word “medical” from the ordinance. The staff’s position is that there is no longer an explicit difference between medical and recreational use, following the state law that allows the production, sale and use of recreational cannabis, with individual municipalities given authority to allow sales.

Earlier this year, council members directed staff to come up with more specific proposed changes and to gauge public support. Despite an information session and a more in-depth presentation, there was still no vote on the proposal.

In a motion brought forward by the mayor at this week’s meeting, council decided to host a town hall on May 13 at 6pm at the council chambers, which will be open to all Hollister residents.

Hollister has allowed medical sales since 2018, but storefronts have yet to open. California’s Adult Use Marijuana Act went into effect January 2018. Council members Marty Richman and Resendiz said they would like to see the dispensaries open and operating before deciding whether or not to permit recreational sales.

Council member, Honor Spencer felt more discussion on the topic was unnecessary. She said at the council meeting that one public session was enough and that the city should start moving forward on plans to allow recreational use.

“I would just like to point out that this did go to a vote and 68 percent of this town voted to have recreational cannabis,” said Spencer.

Velazquez disagreed. He said the city should take its time in making a decision and hear from all residents. Velazquez has continually said that decisions surrounding cannabis should be made specific to the city of Hollister and not by comparison to how other municipalities have handled the issue.

“We shouldn’t be here competing with other communities,” said Velazquez. “This is what we’re comfortable with, what anyone else is doing that’s pretty much their business.”

Cannabis Affairs Director for the city, Maria Mendez, presented the report to the council. She said Hollister has received 73 applications for cannabis businesses since the first cannabis ordinance was approved.

City Manager, Bill Avera, warned the council that when the two dispensaries open the revenue jump may not be as high because recreational sales were not allowed. He told the council that the city was currently “breaking even” when it came to cannabis in the city.

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