For better or worse, Monterey to debate cannabis – Monterey Herald

MONTEREY — Coming days after the launch of a referendum effort to reverse a Pacific Grove ordinance allowing for a single retail cannabis license, on Wednesday Monterey is diving head-first into an analysis of the pros and cons of allowing dispensaries in the city.

The City Council study session begins at 4 p.m. and will be broadcast at or on television Channel 25. The intent of the study session is for the council to provide city staff with direction on what it wants to do about licensing cannabis stores in Monterey, or not.

There has been no shortage of passion surrounding the sale of cannabis, which in California became legal for recreational use for adults over the age of 21 in 2016. The debates have fostered a good amount of hyperbole surrounding the effects a cannabis store has on communities — from the effects on teen use of marijuana to purported increases in crime rates.

Scientific studies conducted by reputable universities have done little to slow the flow of assertions without the data to support them. Some elected officials note the tendency by some of not allowing facts to get in the way of a good culture war.

Monterey City Councilman Alan Haffa, who brought the cannabis discussion to the council, cited a study he will introduce at Wednesday’s session conducted by the University of Washington that looked at states such as Colorado that have the longest history of legal cannabis.

“The study looked at the before and after cannabis legalization and found that it doesn’t make a difference in crime rates,” Haffa said. “It debunked some claims, one of which is that more youth will use cannabis after legalization. There’s no clear evidence that is true, either.”

Indeed, the study itself, published this month in the American Journal of Public Health, titled “Marijuana Legalization and Crime Clearance Rates: Testing Proponent Assertions in Colorado and Washington State,” is clear on its conclusion.

“These findings run counter to arguments suggesting that legalization of marijuana for medical purposes posed a danger to public health in terms of exposure to violent crime and property crimes,” the study states. It suggested one reason for this is the increased security around cannabis dispensaries in terms of security cameras and security personnel.

But there’s little doubt that opponents of marijuana will cite other studies that counter the findings of the University of Washington. The question becomes how reputable the source is and whether a study was conducted to support preexisting beliefs, as one council member in Pacific Grove pointed out in the debate there.

Monterey City Manager Hans Uslar prepared a comprehensive staff report for elected officials Wednesday that looks at factors such as revenue from dispensary sales, legal background, economic development and one section titled “Impacts on Policing and Community Services.”

In that section, Uslar writes the “Monterey Police Department believes there is a potential for an increase in violent crimes and quality of life concerns that may arise should cannabis businesses be permitted in Monterey.” However, there is no supporting data to substantiate that claim, the same claim the University of Washington addressed.

Uslar continued that some cannabis businesses have been victimized by robberies and other violent crime, primarily because “both cannabis and cash have immediate value and are immediately profitable.” There was no supporting documentation provided regarding what businesses were robbed, how many businesses were involved, where the businesses were located and how robberies of cannabis dispensaries compared to liquor store robberies.

“Simply stated, because there is always a lot of cash on the premise, cannabis businesses could be likely targets for felony crimes such as armed robberies,” he wrote.

On the revenue front, the report cited cannabis policy experts HdL Companies as saying stock in cannabis companies is dramatically falling, that cannabis businesses are downsizing and that they are generating less revenue than expected.

It also stated that Seaside’s 6% cannabis tax generated $1.1 million annually for that community.

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