Medical marijuana patients in San Jose are in for a tumultuous summer, and patient access is liable to get worse before it gets better. That's the word from the dispensary group Silicon Valley Cannabis Coalition, which said this week that San Jose's eighty or so dispensaries must pay new city sales taxes, even though the town's leaders may effectively ban clubs this summer.
San Jose could collect about a half-million dollars in sales taxes for two months worth of local medical pot sales, estimates Dave Hodges, founder of the 18-month-old All American Cannabis Club in San Jose. But it's an open question as to how many clubs will pay the tax by this Friday's deadline, given the enforcement climate in Santa Clara County. Hodges, the co-founder of the new dispensary association, the Silicon Valley Cannabis Coalition, said some operators worry that paying the tax will be tantamount to admitting a federal crime.
San Jose voters overwhelmingly passed a 7 percent tax on medical marijuana sales in November, but city leaders have said pot clubs are illegal since 1996. Last fall, a regional narcotics task force arrested dozens of dispensary and delivery operators and seized cash and cannabis — a long-time practice in the county.
Other clubs will pay the tax and use their receipts as proof of their right to exist, said United Food and Commercial Workers organizer John Hughes. The UFCW represents about 9,000 workers — mainly grocers — in Santa Clara County, part of a 35,000-strong UFCW in the Bay Area. Although the union is part of the Silicon Valley Cannabis Coalition, it hasn't signed up any San Jose dispensary vendors like it has in Oakland, but it's working the issue as if it had.
The controversy surrounding medical cannabis has clearly divided the South Bay. In November, Santa Clara County voters elected a new district attorney, Jeff Rosen, who told KNTV on March 15 that closing dispensaries was "not something we're going to devote more resources towards." Hodges said only two of the operators arrested in the latest sweeps have been charged; the rest of the cases are pending and up for case management next month. The two charges that were filed went after operators that had either "just a ridiculous stash" or an alleged loaded gun. "Without a doubt San Jose has some bad actors; it's called the 'Wild West' for a reason," Hodges noted.
To get the industry under control, the Silicon Valley Cannabis Coalition has come up with a template city ordinance. It calls for a "request for proposals" process that would permit dispensaries based on merit.
However, the San Jose City Council is currently considering two ordinances that would cap the number of dispensaries at ten and award permits on a first-come-first-served basis. The rules would also mandate that clubs grow their own marijuana.
But Hughes argues that the two draft ordinances are bans masquerading as regulation. "I don't believe there's anybody in San Jose that can live up to the ordinance's requirements so far — clubs who'd have to cultivate on-site could not meet demand," he explained.
Hodges believes the proposed ordinances, which are due for a council vote in June or July, are not designed to bring order to medical marijuana in San Jose. Rather, they're a stalling tactic while the city seeks guidance from the US Department of Justice.
San Jose appears to be joining a long list of cities and states that are turning to federal authorities to provide a cudgel for killing local pot permitting plans. In January, Oakland City Attorney John Russo asked for guidance from US Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag — who strongly implied that it would be within federal prosecutors' power to charge city leaders with drug trafficking crimes. The tacit threat ended pot permitting efforts in Oakland for the time being. Washington's governor and New Jersey's attorney general also have asked for the same guidance as their states wrestle with the issue.
"[The San Jose City Council] really has no intention to bring order to San Jose; they're setting up loaded questions," Hodges contended. "They know the answer, and they're hoping it will help them avoid ever issuing a license or accepting this industry."
San Jose is also the home base for the leader of the California Narcotics Officers' Association. Hodges said it's not San Jose citizens who're denying people with AIDS, cancer, and multiple sclerosis access to medicine — it's pure narco-NIMBYism. "The main guys live here; this is their backyard," Hodges said. "These people have been manipulating the scene all over California for quite some time. They see this as the front line."
Medical marijuana raids in the South Bay emanate from a multi-agency state task force of narcotics officers who don't answer to Santa Clara County's new DA. The California Narcotics Officers' Association has a section of its web site devoted to fighting patient access, including political talking points labeled, "Marijuana is Not a Medicine." The association also ran the No on Proposition 19 campaign last year.
"The California Narcotics Officers' Association ... [is] ... dedicated to protecting the public from the devastating effects of substance abuse, whether cocaine, methamphetamine, or marijuana," the web site states. "It is our firm belief that any movement that liberalizes or legalizes substance abuse laws would set us back to the days of the Seventies, when we experienced this country's worst drug problem, and the subsequent consequences."
The association's anti-medical-pot methods are being copied nationwide, Hodges said.
Meanwhile, just 140,000 people voted in the last election in San Jose — a city of about one million. "People need to start voting," Hodges said.