Admitting considerable thought and time was invested, El Centro Mayor Pro Tem Efrain Silva said he has altered his previous stance on commercial cannabis and now favors some regulated activities.
"It was a decision not taken lightly but in the best interests of El Centro citizens," said Silva in a phone conversation Oct. 21. "I've been approached by residents this past year who would like to see dispensaries yet I have not encountered anybody who is opposed."
He also recalled that even when the city-council-imposed moratorium banning commercial cannabis the last couple of years was renewed, residents who attended the council hearings spoke up in favor of it. Additionally, Silva noted he has done a lot of reading on the issue and seen in near equal measure some studies approving cannabis use and some that conclude cannabis is detrimental to health.
One persuasive argument is that since delivery service has been established in the city a higher demand for the product is apparent.
"The fact that California approved Proposition 64 (Adult Use of Marijuana Act) demands we act to regulate it," said Silva. "That way the city gets to decide the hours of operation, the documentation required, establishes safety standards (his number one priority) and the city will be able to collect tax revenue from sales."
Of course another consideration is placing a sales-tax measure before the voters as Calexico did in 2018. Silva assured the issues of cannabis sales and a tax on them will come before the council at its Nov. 5 meeting. A tax on cannabis products is likely to be set higher than the going rate for other consumer goods, currently 8.5 percent, he said.
"I understand the concerns of the council members (Cheryl Viegas-) Walker and (Jason) Jackson and I respect their opinions very much," he said. "But I believe given the current dynamics of the county and the city, this would be the right thing to do."
Jackson stressed never hesitates to remind others he has staunchly opposed cannabis use, and has recently reminded people he has always supported medical cannabis.
"But my position has been there is plenty of opportunity for people who need it for medical purposes (to) already have access to it," he said. "Some utilize delivery services, while others are growing it themselves. And Prop. 64 allows people to have up to six plants at home."
Jackson further made his case by citing a panel of cannabis experts who appeared at the League of California Cities gathering in Long Beach on Oct. 16. The panel noted while there is a $3.1 billion market in commercial cannabis there is a competing $8.7 billion black-market operation occurring. If collecting tax revenue is the major tenant for regulating commercial cannabis it is specious justification, he contends.
"I don't believe we'll generate enough revenue to offset the personnel needed for additional police officers, code enforcement, city staff needed to regulate it so it will be a net loss," he said.
Viegas-Walker reiterated she does not favor dispensaries, cultivation, manufacturing or recreational use. She is confident the council will reach a final vote on Nov. 5 when Mayor Edgard Garcia returns and weighs in on the issue.
"My biggest concern is, as cannabis becomes more accessible, middle and high school students will be able to avail themselves of its various products," she said. "Medical research shows that cannabis can have a detrimental effect on adolescent minds while still in its developmental stage."