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Editorial: Novato moves ahead with cannabis rules slowly and carefully

Novato officials are considering taking another step toward embracing voters’ approval of Proposition 64.

In 2016, 64.7 percent of Novato’s voters endorsed the legalization of adult use of recreational marijuana. But the City Council has been cautious in its enactment of full legalization, using the proposition’s “local control” measures to carefully expand access to recreational cannabis.

The council is facing another step, considering adoption of a special cannabis tax, one that officials estimate could raise more than $1 million per year.

The proposed levy would tax local firms involved in the testing, sale, manufacturing and distribution of cannabis.

San Rafael reached this same crossroads in 2018, when voters approved special taxes on cannabis production and sale, and earlier this year the city approved a limited number of manufacturing, testing and delivery businesses.

San Rafael’s careful step was a recognition that Proposition 64 paved the way for other municipalities to allow storefront sales and for out-of-town retailers to make local deliveries of recreational marijuana in town. They could only deliver to those who had medical recommendations from a doctor.

At that point, outlawing local businesses from making local deliveries didn’t make much sense.

But the city still maintained a limit on those permits.

Other towns across Marin have taken varied stands, from bans to limited sale and manufacturing.

Still, Marin residents need only to drive outside of the county to find a store in San Francisco or Sonoma County.

That access has made local bans seem more politically symbolic than truly effective in limiting the potential of youth access to and use of marijuana.

Novato is considering becoming the first city in Marin to allow storefront recreational cannabis businesses. Fairfax and San Rafael allow delivery of recreational pot, but not storefronts.

Many localities, large and small, have seen marijuana as a way to generate local revenue.

That’s one of the issues facing the Novato council, which is struggling with meeting its projected budget needs.

At its hearing last week, there was a call for specifying the use of that revenue for programs, such as those steering youth away from drugs.

The legal quandary is that the tax would require voter approval, and specifically building that requirement into the tax could hinder the funds’ use for other needs, such as meeting law enforcement monitoring of cannabis businesses.

It is also wise to provide city-controlled limits on the number of businesses and their location, restricting them to retail centers and keeping them a reasonable distance from schools.

One speaker at a recent city meeting framed the decision nicely.

Conor Johnson of Mill Valley, a consultant on cannabis policies, said the debate is not one of “cannabis or no cannabis. It’s a competition between an illicit market and a legal, regulated, safe market.”

Novato’s city leaders are taking slow and careful steps toward safely enacting Proposition 64. They are headed in the right direction and in the right way.

Full story is available here.

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