(Seth McConnell, Denver Post file)

San Jose gives OK for current medical marijuana stores to sell recreational cannabis next year

SAN JOSE — San Jose residents next year can buy marijuana at any of the city’s 16 licensed medical pot shops, the City Council decided in a unanimous vote on Tuesday.

The decision doesn’t allow new pot shops to open in San Jose and maintains rules on where the cannabis dispensaries are located — away from schools, parks and other collectives. But it aligns San Jose policies with the will of voters who last year approved Proposition 64, which legalized marijuana for adult use.

“I’m against children and youth using this drug but I understand the voters voted for recreational use,” said Councilman Johnny Khamis, who also asked city officials to explore lifting a ban that prohibits cannabis business owners from owning more than one location. “I would rather see all marijuana — whether people are buying it for medicinal or recreational purposes — be regulated and taxed.”

Mayor Sam Liccardo agreed, saying the city has a “good set of rules in place” for its 16 medical marijuana dispensaries.

Three years ago, San Jose became one of the first major cities to regulate medical marijuana. Leaders adopted two laws: One that outlined where the shops could go — away from schools, parks and other collectives — and another that controlled who can run a shop and how it operates. The city also required shop owners to register and pay fees, including a 10 percent tax on their gross receipts.

After weeding out hundreds of illegal pot shops, only 16 collectives made it through the city’s stringent registration process. Now, those 16 locations will be allowed to sell and deliver non-medical marijuana — with a state license — starting in early 2018.

Under the plan approved Tuesday, the 16 pot shops would be required to apply to sell recreational weed, pay registration fees and go through additional inspections. Their delivery drivers would agree to additional background checks and to outfit their vehicles with GPS devices and cameras to protect against diversion of cannabis.

More than 57 percent of voters in San Jose voted in favor of legalizing marijuana use for adults. District 6, which includes the affluent Willow Glen and Rose Garden areas, had the highest approval rate with nearly 65 percent of voters saying yes to recreational weed.

Every city in Santa Clara County also voted in favor of legalization. But a handful of Bay Area cities imposed bans on the sale of non-medical pot to allow city leaders time to figure out how to regulate and tax the new industry. Prop. 64 gives cities local control over regulation —  even allowing them to completely ban it.

While San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia expressed concerns with people driving under the influence of marijuana and the increased access to the drug among youths, he stressed that there won’t be new dispensaries in San Jose beyond the 16 sanctioned locations. He also said it beats having people buy drugs on the black market.

Sean Kali-rai, president and founder of Silicon Valley Cannabis Alliance who represents five San Jose medical marijuana dispensaries, said he was pleased with the City Council decision on Tuesday.

“It’s a bit overwhelming to think that San Jose just ended cannabis prohibition,” Kali-rai said. “It’s a testament to the fact that this industry can be regulated, taxed and operate like any other business and should be treated no differently.”

This story was first published on TheCannifornina.com