Let’s be clear about a few things:
- The Milpitas City Council did not vote Tuesday night on whether or not to “let cannabis in Milpitas.” Recreational and medicinal cannabis use is already legal in California. Milpitas is located in California. As such, recreational and medicinal cannabis use is already legal in Milpitas.
- The Milpitas City Council voted Tuesday night on whether or not to move forward with opening 10 regulated cannabis dispensaries in the city. Based on the Council’s work in the two years leading up to the vote, it pretty recently seemed inevitable that the dispensaries would be let through. In the end, however, the Council unanimously embraced a counter-plan to be drafted by city employees, instituting a “permanent ban” on pot shops.
- “Permanent” doesn’t mean “forever.” Those in support of cannabis can work to have this matter put to a special vote before the city residents in the next election (as opposed to just our 5-member council) and give legal marijuana stores in Milpitas another shot.
I’m making the above clear because it did not seem clear to many of the several hundred protestors who showed up at Tuesday night’s meeting, mob-style, and overtook the democratic process through fear tactics including recall threats, raw emotion, and outdated data from the movie “Reefer Madness.”
These good folks, who apparently had just begun participating in the democratic process — and the cannabis debate — the day before, took 60-second turns at the mic, expressing their fear of marijuana, pointing out that marijuana is bad for children, saying that this isn’t the Milpitas they once knew, reminding the Council of their duty to serve, and threatening to remove the Council at the next election (one wonders how many of them got memos about the last election, which, for anyone who hasn’t yet marked their calendar, was held 2 weeks ago).
Meanwhile, Mayor Rich Tran had to make so much use of his gavel to manage the crowd that I think he inadvertently trained himself to be a master drummer.
My favorite protester said he was worried about the smell of cannabis filling the air in an already odor-ridden Milpitas, as though the city was in danger of suddenly becoming a parking lot at a Grateful Dead show.
I don’t mock the mob because I’m for the cannabis shops. I mean, push comes to shove, I certainly am, mostly because I support cultural newness and diversity. Regarding cannabis itself, I think it’s a little more dangerous than its supporters believe, and far less dangerous than its opponents believe. Smoking pot in my teens, I heard all the myths about how the drug can’t harm you. In the Internet age, we sure know it can, and that much still remains unknown about its effects.
None of this matters presently, however. Again: Pot is legal in California. And critically: By and large, the many sincere citizens who spoke out on Tuesday night weren’t referring to the issue of bringing regulated marijuana stores into the city.
They were referring, on a basic, unadorned level, to the issue of bringing marijuana itself into the city.
News flash: It’s already here. People have long enjoyed smoking pot. People will thus smoke pot whether it’s legal or not. Legal or not, they will find a way. The idea behind legalizing it, and regulating it, and allowing for the presence of regulated shops, is to gain control over — and tax revenue from — a tricky human inevitability. As Vice Mayor Marsha Grilli articulately touched upon in response to the many commenters’ remarks, studies have shown that the presence of regulated dispensaries can lower crime rates while providing economic benefits.
Which is why the City Council was veering toward allowing them in.
In the end, though, the Council took the visitors’ words to heart, and shut the item down before things got out of hand. Truth be told, if I was sitting up there among them, I likely would have gone the same way. It’s hard, in a small city, to gain a sober assessment of who “the people” are, and where they stand. As Mayor Rich Tran pointed out, soundly and fairly, what’s called for here, to gain clarity while healing any unrest, is a proper democratic vote among the people.
Indeed, if the people who showed up in protest last night represent the people of Milpitas on the whole, then cannabis shops would be extremely unpopular here.
The thing is, they didn’t, and don’t. In the 2016 election, approximately 51% of Milpitas voters came out in support of Prop 64, to legalize marijuana in California. That means Milpitas is more or less split down the middle on this issue. Which means, in turn, that Tuesday night’s mob, while large, loud, forceful, persistent, and emotional, was not “the people.”
The night’s outcome points to a larger issue, one involving communications: Why did the mob get up to speed so late? Where were they over the past two years?
Indeed, this pattern comes up a lot around here: The city puts the word out about agenda items through its website and NextDoor, the vast majority of people either never find out about it or are too busy to participate, decisions are made with minimal public input, larger amounts of people find out after the fact, and outrage ensues on the part of citizens over a missed party that they were actually invited to.
We have to step up our communications. And by “we”, I don’t just passive-aggressively mean the city. I mean all of us: the city, the citizens, The Milpitas Beat. I’m all for democracy, but democracy operating in lopsided form is an aggravating thing to behold. In the meantime, technically, we can rest easy — for the will of the people has been honored.
But then again, that depends on how one defines “will.”
And “the people.”