A man wearing a T-shirt with a cannabis leaf and the word No on the back speaks during a City Council meeting about cannabis at El Monte City Hall in Dec. 3, 2019. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)
It’s been almost seven years since the 57% of Californians who voted yes on Proposition 64, legalizing cannabis, gave the go-ahead to normalizing weed sales.
The results, at least as far as the local regulatory authority the measure gave to city councils across the state, so mind-numbingly bureaucratic and at the same time corrupting, have been so bad that it almost makes you long for a state in which sketchy dudes instead hang out on street corners, whispering about doobies for sale as you pass by.
Perhaps that still occurs on certain street corners, as the taxes and other fees imposed on marijuana sales have apparently let the so-called black market keep prices well below those in regulated legal shops.
It felt so good back then, advocating for and then voting for the sensible measure that ended a century and more of bootless cannabis prohibition that saw millions of people arrested across our country with countless lives wasted through jail and prison time with the ensuing criminal records for sales and even possession of small amounts.
But in the end — or maybe not in the end; at this seven-year juncture at least — the “success” of 64 feels like being sold the same kind of bill of goods we were sold with the success of the bullet train initiative: a great idea for California that gets ruined because government is so apparently inexhaustibly bad at implementing great ideas.
For the bullet train, any reasonable, efficient scheme would have seen its tracks laid down in the median of or alongside Interstate 5 on property already owned by the state; instead, the crazily inefficient and wildly expensive reality has involved buying up new property and creating a government authority that unlike in a dozen other countries around the world simply doesn’t know how to run a railroad.
For cannabis, with the proposition’s theoretically good idea of devolving the regulation of where pot shops and cultivation companies can be opened and by whom to local electeds, the result has been endless boring pontification by small-beer politicians alongside the maddening greasing of so many of their palms.
The latest local troubling aspect of the ways that what was supposed to be the opening up of a legal market for weed has failed don’t necessarily involve palm-greasing.
Instead, as our news group’s investigative reporter Jason Henry detailed this week, it involves yet another example of our government employees trying to keep what should be public information private, to themselves.
“El Monte’s city manager and then-mayor used an application that automatically deleted text messages, potentially in violation of state law, to coach an applicant attempting to secure a retail cannabis license from the city in 2020, according to a newly filed declaration in a pending lawsuit,” Henry reports.
“City Manager Alma Martinez set the application, called Signal, to delete messages after only an hour, according to a screenshot in the court filing. State law prohibits public officials from destroying records that are less than two years old and requires them to obtain permission from their respective legislative body — in this case, the City Council — before the destruction, according to Kelly Aviles, an open government attorney.”
Now there are lawsuits and all kinds of legal murkiness involved, because it’s not at all clear that using Signal in itself is actionable for public officials, and because they are coming up with excuses about not discussing policy but just politics when they used the app. Whatever. It’s unseemly. You use communications that disappear because you don’t want anyone else — like the people you represent — to see them. As with so many cities creating supposedly fair ways post-64 to regulate pot sales, El Monte set up a rubric that involved many complicating factors — including literally how much money a company would donate directly to the city’s general fund — in order to get a license. Talk about pay to play. One company “pledged $100,000 directly to the city’s coffers and received the highest score possible for that section,” known as “community benefits.”
What if a restaurant or grocery store had to donate a hundred grand to City Hall in order to open? San Gabriel Valley and Whittier-area cities would be less corrupt if we just went back to dealers hawking dime bags on the street.
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