Summary and analysis of Benicia City Council’s compromise and reversal of retail cannabis ban

By Craig Snider, Benicia, June 19, 2019

The meeting went about the same as the last few.

The same string of opponents highlighted the same issues as before.  Who knew (?!) that…

    • administering cannabis retail will cost a city nearly $1,000,000 per year,
    • kids should not smoke weed,
    • you could turn into a murderer of old ladies if you smoke pot,
    • a cannabis shop could get robbed at gunpoint with dire consequences,
    • crime skyrockets in towns with cannabis shops,
    • home values will plummet by $100,000-$200,000 in the vicinity of a cannabis shop,
    • the presence of even one cannabis store will destroy a town’s reputation and send it on the road to ruin,
    • the black markets will persist despite the presence of legal cannabis stores, etc., etc.

The pro-retail cast of characters was smaller than past meetings, and continued to refute the outrageous claims of the Reefer Madness crowd.  I’m guessing many are simply suffering from CMF (Cannabis Meeting Fatigue).

I presented the petitions with 593 signatures.  About half came from the online   The Council asked me about next steps and I said we were encouraged by the ease of a handful of folks gathering so many signatures in just two weeks, and would likely move forward with a ballot initiative if a retail ban were enacted.

Not surprisingly, Largaespada and Strawbridge were unmoved by any sort of argument.  They are both aligned with the Reefer Madness crowd and unwilling to view the issue objectively.

As demonstrated often in the past, Tom Campbell sought a compromise position and to his credit, decided to honor the current process by “grandfathering in” the nine applicants under the Feb. 20, 2018, ordinance; but awarding just one permit (not two).  In a nod to the anti-retail crowd, he agreed to impose more restrictive buffers around parks, etc. for any future retail cannabis applicants.  This was a compromise on Tom’s part because throughout the process he’s been steadfast in restricting retail to the industrial park.

Personally, I was disappointed that we won’t have two locations.  From a business perspective, with a goal of fostering successful small businesses in Benicia, it would be better to have some competition and, if one fails, the other would hopefully succeed.  On the other hand, one store will still be competing with the well-greased Vallejo contingent and a single store might be more likely to succeed in the more limited Benicia and vicinity market.

Of note was the discussion of administrative costs to the City.  The council peppered city staff with questions about cost, especially after Largaespada suggested it run over half a million dollars. City staff consistently stated they didn’t know, but that it would not differ much from other businesses.  Staff deferred to Chief Upson, who suggested they would likely hire a contractor to do periodic compliance checks regarding security and operations for two cannabis shops.  He suggested the cost could be as high as half an employee-year, but he would contract that work at significantly less that the cost of a police officer.   He thought it could run $30,000 per year for the contract.  With only one retail store, the cost would, of course, be much less.

Craig Snider