Hollister pot opinions still divided

City hosts town hall to gauge public support

The recreational cannabis debate continued this week in Hollister at a town hall meeting to discuss public support of amending Hollister’s existing cannabis ordinance.

Cannabis Affairs Manager Maria Mendez presented the proposed changes to the public and to the council once again. The changes would affect sales, delivery, retail hours and the permit application process.

The possibility of allowing the sale of recreational cannabis in the city has been a topic before the council since the beginning of the year. The council approved the sale of cannabis for medicinal use in December 2016, and the first retail store is set to open June 1. But council has balked at taking the next step.

On March 13, the city held its first public outreach meeting on the issue, and comments were divided for and against the ordinance changes. Many of the speakers who supported the recreational change are involved in the emerging Hollister cannabis industry.

After the council on April 22 had been presented with changes in the ordinance to allow recreational sales, Mayor Ignacio Velazquez instructed staff to hold another town meeting. He said he didn’t want to rush the process and wanted the public to be included in the discussion.

At that time, Mendez estimated that with recreational and medical sales, the city could collect $5.5 million annually in fees, but with just medical  sales the projected revenue would be $1.375 million.

Mendez said the ordinance amendments would allow recreational sales in the two approved dispensaries, allow non-storefront cannabis businesses to deliver cannabis products, ban deliveries between 10pm and 6am, allow deliveries from other jurisdictions with a permit approved by the council and remove the point system for applicants.

Lonna Blodgett spoke on behalf of her business, Monterey Bay Alternative Medicine, a medical dispensary set to open in Hollister. Lewis brought numbers from her two other dispensaries to illustrate the difference between revenues from exclusively medical sales and combined recreational/medical sales.

Blodgett told the council that in one year her Salinas dispensary served over 22,000 customers, but only about 1,700 of those customers came in with medical cards. At the Del Rey Oak location Blodgett said the storefront served over 38,000 customers with only about 2,000 being medical patients.

Other community members who spoke expressed concern that opening Hollister up to recreational marijuana would lead to a rise in use and sales to minors.

While council members Carol Lenoir, Honor Spencer and Marty Richman were more explicit with their support for the changes, Velazquez and council member Rolan Resendiz said they were happy to hear from the public before making a decision.

Velazquez said he wanted to continue to proceed with caution. “There are communities that did not pay attention to the rules early on and failed miserably,” he added.

Mendez told the Free Lance that she expected to bring the ordinance back before the council May 20 or possibly later in the month.

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