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Are storefront marijuana sales in Manteca political risk for potential mayor hopefuls?
riverbank teaser
The Perfect Union recreational marijuana dispensary in Riverbank.

In the coming months the Manteca City Council is expected to take solid action on two highly polarizing issues — the homeless and retail marijuana sales — just as the race for the next mayor of Manteca will be getting off the ground.

There are four candidates that have made it clear they are running or seriously weighing doing so. They are not unknown. They are not newbies at community outreach and elections. And they are not shrinking violets.

To top it off, they all have a high profile platform as elected members of the Manteca City Council.

The list includes incumbent Mayor Ben Cantu who isn’t shy in regards to controversial issues and has a tendency to stake out positions at the outset, seven-year council veteran and millennial Gary Singh who is running from a safe seat, first-term council member Dave Breitenbucher who clearly has positioned himself as opposing change for the sake of change and who is not running from a safe seat as well as council newbie Charlie Halford who has a lot of credence with a large segment of the community based on his long career in Manteca law enforcement.

While there are other pressing issuing running the gamut from fairly massive wastewater and water rates on the horizon, the need to reduce the shake and rattle factor while driving Manteca streets, making traffic more manageable, the stability of City Hall following the purge, and whether Manteca’s books are in order the two concerns that could haunt the mayoral candidates in November 2022 are the homeless and marijuana.

Of the two the one that is likely to create the greatest political challenge is the proposed retail or storefront sale of marijuana in Manteca

The reason is simple. In order for it to become reality or rejected it requires a straightforward yes or no vote. While every issue is multi-faceted and homeless concerns are front and center, it is doubtful that a decision one way or another on them has the potential ability to galvanize voters as strongly as the retail sale of marijuana.

Given the timeline the council has established a decision is on target to be made by October.

The city is certainly doing its due diligence. They have staged five community workshops even on weekends as well as with Zoom access. That is in addition to planned multiple public meetings on the planning commission and council levels including a workshop.

Cantu won’t be swayed by any amount of community input. At the same time the process for community workshops was approved, he clearly stated he couldn’t wait until October rolled around so he could vote to legalize storefront retail sales.

Breitenbucher has emphatically rejected the idea.

What makes his position different than Cantu’s besides being the polar opposite is the fact he didn’t push for community input in a pretense that it would help shape his final decision as Cantu did.

If you’re keeping count, that’s one for and one against.

It starts getting interesting with Singh. Although he has said he favors the idea, he hasn’t placed all his cards on the table. He had repeatedly said he wants to gauge community sentiment not just through public forums but in hearing feedback on a one-on-one basis. And while you could argue he is leaning toward a “yes” the fact he’s already pushing a safety valve approach of proceeding on a “test basis” by only going with one licensee initially and then deciding whether to go full-bore ahead or pull the plug makes his position somewhat less hard fast than Cantu.

It is not the stance of someone who is 100 percent comfortable with retail pot sales in Manteca especially if it creates problems, real world and especially politically.

Then there is Halford. He has carved out a “leaning position” just like Singh but with a different twist.

Halford has shared that he understands marijuana is not going away and that there are Manteca residents who would benefit from easier access who have pain issues and such. But he had serious reservations about the impact of storefront sales while noting brick and mortar retail options are available in nearby cities plus the option of home delivery by a licensed store in another jurisdiction exists in Manteca.

Halford said his mind isn’t closed to the idea. Having said that, Halford stressed it would take a lot of convincing to change his mind.

That’s one leaning “yes” and one leaning “no”. And while it isn’t implausible for either to end up leaning enough the other way, it essentially means there are likely two votes for and two votes against the notion of allowing retail sales.

That means the deciding vote could come down to the one council member who isn’t among those eyeing having the mayor’s gavel in their grip when January 2023 rolls around, Jose Nuño.

Nuño, in his only public comments that would give you an insight as to where he may end up on retail marijuana sales, expressed reservations based on what he has observed regarding marijuana during his life and acknowledge there is a sizable segment of the public that favors retail sales in Manteca.

Nuño served with Singh on the council subcommittee appointed by Mayor Cantu to research the subject and presented a game plan on how the council might address the issue. That is where the concept of multiple workshops came from.

He’s the only council member you get a clear vibe from who is conflicted to a point that he isn’t solid or leaning one way or another.

Nuño is up for re-election as a council member in November 2022. Nuño indicated he plans to weigh whether he will run again later this fall.

Politically speaking, the question is what is the riskiest side of the fence?

Marijuana had gained a lot of acceptance even by people who don’t use it as they know of those who have benefitted from it greatly for pain management.

Allowing physical retail sales in Manteca, however, may end up being a different story.

While the tide may have turned in marijuana per se, a tsunami of opposition could kick in much like it often does with adult bookstores.

Given marijuana is still easily accessible regardless of what Manteca does locally, it is highly unlikely the pro-retail sale folks are going to be nearly as galvanized if the council rejects such storefront sales in Manteca than the anti-brick and mortar pot shop folks would be if a marijuana shop was allowed next to a neighborhood market, in downtown, or in a highly visible locale.

The bottom line the greater political risk for a sitting council member who is a candidate in the upcoming mayoral election is likely being in favor of allowing retail storefront marijuana sales in Manteca.


This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at