Palo Alto voters will decide next week whether to allow up to three medical marijuana dispensaries to open in their city.
The City Council has already come out unanimously against the measure, but proponents say it would generate needed tax revenue and provide convenient access for those who need the drug for pain management.
If the measure passes, the dispensaries would be subject to a 4 percent tax on gross receipts and would only be allowed to open in areas more than 150 feet away from residential neighborhoods, 600 feet from schools and 500 feet from public libraries, parks, licensed day-care centers and drug rehab centers.
The dispensaries would be given one-year permits, with the possibility of annual renewal.
But longtime Councilman Larry Klein, a three-time former mayor, said he believes dispensaries are something the majority of citizens don’t need or want.
"Since I took my council seat, I have heard zero requests for marijuana dispensaries in Palo Alto,” Klein said.
Klein also argued that the tax revenue from the three dispensaries would be an estimated $40,000 — a small amount that he said would be eclipsed by the cost of extra policing and administration.
"This is more trouble than it’s worth,” Klein said. "We’d be the marijuana magnet of the Peninsula, and I don’t think we want that.”
The surrounding communities of Redwood City, Mountain View, Menlo Park, Sunnyvale and Cupertino have all banned dispensaries, Klein said.
He added that allowing marijuana dispensaries in the city would put its laws at odds with federal regulations.
One of Measure C’s supporters, Joseph McNamara, a retired San Jose police chief and fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, is passionate about what he sees as the folly of the war on drugs.
"It doesn’t make sense to keep marijuana illegal ... prohibition not only does not work, it creates enormous violence and corruption,” McNamara said.
When McNamara attended Harvard University, he wrote his thesis on the criminalization of drugs in the early part of the 20th century.
"If we’re going to ban anything, we might as well go back to the prohibition of alcohol, not marijuana,” McNamara said. "Marijuana helps people who suffer from pain.
Plus, McNamara said, unlike alcohol, pot tends to make people mellow, not angry.
According to Klein, though, the core of the measure isn’t about prohibition.
"The issue isn’t the legalization of pot, the issue is do we want to have these dispensaries in our community, given all the problems everybody else has had,” Klein said.