By Patrick McGreevy Los Angeles Times
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The prospect of vans loaded with pot delivering to homes in quiet Morgan Hill makes Police Chief David Swing uneasy.
Like most cities in the state, the upscale San Jose suburb has banned pot shops. But now, as California considers a proposal to allow marijuana businesses to send home-delivery vans into communities where retail stores are prohibited, Swing and others in law enforcement say they are preparing for the worst.
“This will make it easier and more lucrative to rob a delivery person than a liquor store,” said Swing, who is president of the California Police Chiefs Association. He notes drivers would be allowed to carry up to $10,000 in cash. “Robberies are the tip of the iceberg. They can lead to other crimes, including aggravated assaults and homicides.”
Law enforcement leaders and city officials statewide have lined up to oppose the delivery proposal currently under consideration by California Bureau of Cannabis Control chief Lori Ajax. They were among the thousands of people who packed three public hearings recently held by the bureau on new marijuana regulations.
The League of California Cities, which represents the state’s 482 municipalities, has also joined with the California Police Chiefs Association in a campaign to kill the delivery proposal.
The groups have set up a website, StopWanderingWeed.com, asking Californians to “protect our children and schools” by signing a petition to oppose the rule change. It features a cartoon showing schoolchildren reacting gleefully to the arrival of a delivery van with a marijuana leaf on its side.
The United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents many of the state’s cannabis industry employees, put up Facebook ads opposing the proposal. The group sees deliveries as a threat to legal pot shops.
“As the labor union representing the largest number of workers in the medical cannabis industry, UFCW worked hard to keep communities safe by making sure recreational cannabis is sold with strict safeguards,” James Araby, executive director UFCW Western States Council, said in a statement on the union’s website. “Regulated marijuana dispensaries have tough security, checks for identity and legal age, and strictly licensed workers. If marijuana can be delivered anywhere with virtually no regulation, California will lose these safeguards that protect communities and children.”
But Ajax is also being lobbied heavily by the marijuana industry to approve statewide deliveries amid uncertainty about current law.
The bureau has tentatively interpreted state law as allowing delivery in all cities, including those that have banned pot shops. Regulators cite a passage in a law approved by the Legislature in 2016 that says: “A local jurisdiction shall not prevent delivery of cannabis or cannabis products on public roads” by a state licensee.
So far, 128 permits have been issued throughout the state to marijuana retailers allowing them to deliver to homes.
Licensed retailers who use Eaze, an online cannabis marketplace and delivery app, have made more than 500,000 deliveries throughout California since the sale of pot for recreational purposes began Jan. 1, according to the firm Eaze Solutions. The company also supports allowing delivery statewide, said Eaze Solutions executive Andrea Ambrose Lobato.
“California’s voters made clear that any individual in California 21 years of age and over should be permitted to consume cannabis,” Lobato said in a letter to Ajax.
The effect of legal deliveries across California could be felt immediately. Only about 15 percent of cities and counties have authorized cannabis sales, according to Weedmaps, a website that allows users to search listings for marijuana dispensaries and delivery services.
“Dozens of cities and counties simply refuse to allow the sale of legal cannabis within their borders regardless of voter sentiment, creating vast geographical areas where no legal cannabis access market exists and medical patients have no valid options,” Weedmaps President Chris Beals said in a letter to Ajax.
Meanwhile, cities that have banned pot sales have interpreted state law as allowing them to take action against deliveries in their jurisdictions. Officials argue that while the law may allow delivery vehicles on “public roads,” it does not permit marijuana sales on the doorsteps of homes in cities where sales are banned.
With Swing and other police chiefs saying they have authority to cite anyone who tries to deliver in their cities, the state is seeking to reduce confusion over the law with the proposed new rules.
“The (proposed) regulations clarify that a licensed retailer who performs delivery may deliver to any jurisdiction within the state of California,” said Alex Traverso, a spokesman for the bureau.
Ajax has received letters of opposition from 98 cities including Alhambra, Beverly Hills, Lakewood and Thousand Oaks.
Proposition 64 bars the state from issuing a license to pot shops that have not been given city approval to operate. But city council members throughout the state say that authority is undermined if deliveries are legal statewide.
“The primary concern is local control, city control,” Alhambra Mayor Jeffrey Koji Maloney said. “It’s something we think we should have some say in.”
Stoking fears of an increase in crime, the League of California Cities recently circulated a news story on the arrest of two men suspected of selling pot and methamphetamine from an ice cream truck in North Long Beach. The men did not have state delivery licenses.
The legalized cannabis industry has said the move is part of an unfair attack on licensed delivery services.
“Demonizing delivery services has been a big part of the widespread misinformation about cannabis in general,” Weedmaps said in a statement. “A delivery service isn’t a big truck with cannabis leaves painted all over it, ringing a bell and driving around the neighborhood like an ice cream truck looking for kids to sell to.”
State regulations require all delivery orders to be placed with a state-licensed retailer. Drivers may only deliver in nondescript vehicles — without advertising promoting the drug — to an address from which an order has been placed.
Ajax said she is weighing public input before a determination is made in consultation with the office of Gov. Jerry Brown about whether to alter the proposed regulations, which also address other issues. The proposals include requirements for child-resistant packaging, age verification for purchasers and restrictions on advertisements directed at children, which are not opposed by cities and law enforcement.
“I think it is important to note that the primary purpose of the bureau’s regulations are to protect public safety, which includes restricting youth access to cannabis,” Ajax said.