Don Bessee: Again, why should the neighborhoods suffer? | TheUnion.com

Don Bessee: Again, why should the neighborhoods suffer?

Other Voices
Don Bessee

We have been having a long conversation about commercial marijuana's impacts on communities and neighborhoods. During the Prop 64 lead up and campaign there were some very interesting conversations and warnings.

I set up a press conference in late October 2016 in the heart of the financial district in San Francisco where SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) stood with leaders of the medical marijuana community. We were there to put a spotlight on the tricks in Prop 64. That brought a very diverse group together to voice an area of significant agreement. All of us there took heat for it.

We warned that the supermajority clause made the rest meaningless and that SAM's long-warned Big Tabacco 2.0 would come to Cali. So did University of California, San Francisco addiction researchers. We were right. We were right on so many levels.

I warned of the law enforcement street view from states that went commercial medical and commercial party pot before us. The urban and small town homeless magnet issues in Colorado. The quality of life crime increases and public drug use. Then there was the wanton abuse of the hard rules. As time went on, the tax money got gobbled up by administration of the commercial track and tax system. A system that did nothing to decrease the black market. It only empowered it. Take for example the hide in plain sight criminal gang activity where they set up pot shops without licenses. It's a whack-a-mole without any real enforcement ability, just like Los Angeles now.

We were promised by Gavin Newsom et al. that all the problems would go away when we legalized.

It has been very interesting to watch all the moves since the passage of Prop. 64 in November 2016, very interesting.

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Let's look at the facts on the ground right now. As it sits, there are all of 17 counties that are commercial. One allows deliveries. That means that all the other counties are not commercial. Yes, the vast majority of California is noncommercial.

The reality on the ground across the state of California it that things are not better on any level; they are worse and getting worse.

It was gratifying that the head of the state pot growers sued the state recently for doing exactly what we warned about. It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, if that's the case, thanks.

According to Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, which filed the suit in Sacramento County Superior Court, the farm-size caps are essential to stop the industry from becoming "Big Tobacco 2.0"

Earlier this month, I was at another press conference in San Francisco. I was standing shoulder to shoulder with the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco, the head of the Congress On Racial Equality (CORE) and The Pacific Justice Foundation among others. The event was held in a very special location. We were in the magnificent Chinese Episcopal Church on Noriega in San Francisco. A church that has a full day care and all day long bilingual tutoring. The planning commission in San Francisco had made the egregious decision to allow a pot shop across the street in violation of Prop 64.

The worst part is it was a politically connected former mayor of Oakland who got the OK. The righteous uproar forced even the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to grant the appeal to protect the neighborhood. A neighborhood of color. The facts are that most liquor stores and pot shops are in neighborhoods of color.

I spoke about the facts in NorCal. We have had elected officials in Truckee threatened when the community wisely rejected commercial weed. Nevada County has too many stories of abused neighborhoods like Wolf Drive. Do any of you feel safer in your neighborhood? I hear "no" in a big way, every day.

The audit of the commercial pot shops in Sacramento showed they were selling black market weed, lying, cheating and even refusing entry to auditors even though the license required it. On Kathleen Avenue in Sacramento, the city is not protecting homeowners who are getting harassed for opposing a license applicant who is running without a license.

We were promised that things would get better; have they for your neighborhood?

What I hear from people who failed in other states in the weed business and locals who have no idea about what real world business plans are is that we must make what they want to do legal here everywhere. Do we really? I think we need to see an enforcement model in California that works first.

Don Bessee is the executive director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana of Northern California and a resident of Nevada County.