Policymakers in the state and local levels are pushing Santa Clara County officials to reverse their decision to impose a ban on recreational cannabis sales in shops since the last week of March.
The county initially determined that cannabis dispensaries could be counted as essential services in Mid-March following the Bay Area official stay-at-home order. As such, they were allowed to stay open.
However, it added a new directive two weeks later, indicating that recreational cannabis cannot be dispensed in-store.
Several state and local lawmakers have urged Santa Clara County officials to reverse its standing decision that only medical cannabis is permitted to be sold in cannabis dispensaries. It means that recreational marijuana can only be put on sale via delivery, banning it for in-store purchases.
The county’s position comes after the region extended its stay-at-home directive to May 3, around two weeks after Santa Clara County initially declared that cannabis dispensaries could stay open and sell recreational marijuana as they are deemed an essential service.
Bay Area announced its home isolation order in the middle of March.
Santa Clara is the only county in the Bay Area to create the new distinction regarding cannabis as of press writing.
Besides the backlash of the decision from operators and owners of dispensaries, several state and local officials have also raised their concerns as they work to represent their county’s residents.
Members of the San Jose council Pam Foley, Maya Esparza, and Magdalena Carrasco addressed a letter to Sara Cody, Santa Clara County Public Health Officer. They asked her to reconsider the verdict to permit only medical marijuana for purchase in shops, curbside, or delivery.
The council members pointed out that consumers are now unable to pull-up on the curbside to buy CBD oil for their pain relief, while others can buy Tylenol at the grocery store without repercussions. The authors argued that the people who want to purchase cannabis to treat their pain should not be denied access in this time of crisis.
The council members further requested the county to impose manageable requirements instead of banning the sale of recreational cannabis in stores. They suggested social distancing protocols such as putting a limit to the number of buyers inside a shop at one time, keeping at least six feet distance between work stations, and regularly sanitizing the area.
State policymakers Senator Jim Beall and Assemblyman Ash Kalra also penned a letter addressed to the county, expressing their apprehension over the new distinction made to the order.
The state lawmakers raised several concerns, including the incidence of a black market being established to meet the demand. They also pointed out the possible long-term impact of cannabis dispensaries’ viability in meeting the needs for medical cannabis. Furthermore, they cited the current lack of shelter-at-home enforcement policies as another reason for urging county officials to reverse their order.
Beall and Kalra wrote in the letter that the new decision has caused confusion and forced new requirements on an already overworked licensing and law enforcement officers.
Director of Government Affairs Hirsh Jain of Caliva, a dispensary in San Jose, stated the decision and unclear regulations regarding it is unfortunate. It puts consumers and the dispensaries in an awkward position.
While the county order specified that only medical cannabis could be sold in-store, it failed to define what qualifies as a medical cannabis purchase.
County counsel replies
In an email by James Williams, Santa Clara County Counsel, he defended that there is no rule requiring buyers to have a medical cannabis card to purchase cannabis-based products at any dispensary. However, law enforcement agencies choose to check the card to validate that they are buying for medicinal purposes.
Williams did not clarify whether San Jose agrees with some law-enforcing agencies asking for the medical marijuana card from any person entering a dispensary.
He maintained that the county made the order to lower the number of individuals gathered in close proximity at a location, which aligns with the overall goal of the stay-at-home directive.
Williams further added in the email that despite the many letters they received appealing for the reversal of the decision, the county strongly urges its residents to stay home and reconsider any trips, even for essential services. He advises everyone to reduce and consolidate outside travels to lessen physical contact as much as possible.