Bay Area Is Divided On Legal Marijuana As Jan. 1 Approaches

Unprepared and overwhelmed, many cities are hitting the pause button

On the eve of California’s big new experiment with legal marijuana sales, the Bay Area is dividing into a kaleidoscopic landscape as cities and counties race to enact laws by the start of the new year that reflects their hopes and fears. Will there be a flood of tax revenue from cannabis to fix potholes and hire more cops? Or will pot sales trigger blight, violence, and other ills? After the decision of California voters last year to legalize recreational marijuana, similar-seeming places are reaching very different conclusions. And different places, oddly, often seem to agree. One college town, Santa Cruz, is pro-pot sales. Another, Palo Alto, is opposed. One working-class East Bay city, Richmond, has said yes to recreational marijuana sales. Another similar city, Antioch, has said no for now.

Unprepared and overwhelmed, many cities are hitting the pause button as they brace for bleary-eyed debates over planning, zoning and tax rates. While these cities support legal weed in theory, in practice they’re less sure. They seem startled, as if to ask: How did Jan. 1 get here so soon? “People have assumed a quick ramp-up,” said Courtney Ramos, vice president of Mountain View-based Matrix Consulting Group, which is advising cities and counties on how to deal with marijuana ordinances, “but a lot of communities weren’t having those conversations.” A century of prohibition kept pot laws pretty simple, but the passage of Proposition 64 in November 2016 has complicated things, creating a cultural Rorschach test of sorts, revealing our cities’ deeply held values.

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