There are very few things that come out of the local, Manteca-based neighborhood watch groups on Facebook that I agree with.
For the most part, I personally believe that the negativity that the groups foster – coupled with the nasty combination of misinformation and hysteria – gives the casual observer the impression that things are far worse than are in actuality.
But there is one thing that I do agree with when it pops up occasionally, and that is that the prohibition on cannabis-related businesses in Manteca is misguided.
Now, before I get into this, I just want to point out from the beginning that I’m not necessarily in favor of people smoking pot. To be completely accurate, I don’t really think people should ingest intoxicants of any kind – alcohol included – because anything that leads to altered states of consciousness is fundamentally not good for you. I’m speaking from experience here, and it’s just my personal preference.
More on that later.
As part of California’s decision to both decriminalize the use and cultivation of cannabis and allow the sale of cannabis products in a controlled and regulated environment, the law gives municipalities the freedom to choose whether they want those businesses in their community.
In the case of Manteca, the City Council – with the backing and the encouragement of the Manteca Police Department – has chosen not to allow those businesses to operate within the city limits, and the County of San Joaquin has followed suit.
Some of the reasons that they’re against cannabis-related businesses? Because the Federal government still classifies cannabis as a Schedule I narcotic, and because most banks are Federally insured, the owners of said businesses are extremely limited in how they process payments and operate business accounts. While there are some institutions that do work with dispensaries, those are the exceptions rather than the rule, and the businesses end up dealing mostly in cash, which makes them targets for organized thieves that are willing to use violence to get their hands on it.
But just as the city has the ability to determine whether they want those businesses to operate within the city limits, they also have the power to issue conditions on businesses – especially those that have the potential to be problematic.
So why not use those conditions to eliminate areas of concern? There’s no reason a dispensary can’t use an armored car service to move its cash – it is what banks do all the time – and requiring the use of armed guards to protect the property would serve as a deterrent. It’s also not off the table for the city to institute a requirement that businesses of that kind must have cameras installed that can be monitored by law enforcement at all times.
Would such requirements be expensive? Absolutely. But allow me to frame things another way.
I’m willing to bet that there isn’t a single person reading this that doesn’t have some way to acquire cannabis if they really, truly wanted to. Everybody knows somebody who knows somebody, and long before California voters realized that criminalization of such a socially-accepted vice was futile, the somebody that everybody knew through six degrees of separation was operating completely and totally outside of the law.
Drug dealers – let us at least be honest about it, as that is what they are – can’t take credit card payments. They operate as a cash business. And when you’re operating illicitly, often times in sketchy situations, the threat of violence is never too far away. They couldn’t turn to the police if they were ever robbed, so many took matters into their own hands, or acquired weapons themselves – again, often illegally – to protect themselves from would-be thieves or those who wished to do them or their business harm.
Things start to get really dicey, really quickly when all of those factors start to accumulate.
But legalization changed all of that. Yes, the black market still exists – it will always exist. The cost of cannabis products is prohibitively expensive because the regulations and the taxes are prohibitively expensive, and not everybody has the startup capital to take advantage of the freedom that legitimacy provides. Even with all of that realized, the funneling of cannabis consumers to a single point of sale – one that is regulated, with products that must be tested for purity and quality – eliminated a tremendous amount of the illicit activity that was taking place quite regularly in parking lots and living rooms across the city.
And drug dealers aren’t necessarily stupid. Manteca, with its decision not to allow a dispensary to open in town, is still a market that is ripe for the black market. The demand is still there, it’s just a little bit harder to obtain the supply when you have to drive to a neighboring city to acquire it legally. As a result, there are people willing to bring it to the comfort of your home and do so without any of the protections that a regulated market provides.
We can buy alcohol just about everywhere, and I don’t have enough space to list the crimes that alcohol contributes to on a routine basis. But for some reason when you take cannabis and put it under the microscope – a substance that while intoxicating doesn’t bring about nearly the same issues – it is viewed as somehow more of an issue.
There’s an argument that is commonly made about how not allowing dispensaries is somehow leaving money on the table, and while there may be some merit to the fact that the tax revenue could be a boon for the city, the issue is much simpler than that. If the demand for something is there, the supply will catch up to it eventually, and I don’t think that forcing that demand outside of the city limits is an effective way of dealing with the hypothetical issues that could arise as a result of its inclusion.
Again, I don’t think that people should necessarily imbibe in such products recreationally. The constant and ongoing use of any mind-altering substance is drug abuse no matter how you slice it, and that is something that should not be ignored. I’m not holier-than-thou when it comes to this subject – my feelings come from experience, and I’ve learned that you’re much healthier, both mentally and physically, when you just say no.
But when you look at the list of preventable deaths in the United States, cannabis doesn’t even deserve a mention after tobacco, poor diet, and alcohol.
You can buy cigarettes at the drug and grocery store – along with alcohol – while you’re on your way to go and pick up fast food.
If we can find a way to dispense powerful opiates without robberies being commonplace (those pills have to be delivered by somebody) inside of the same store that sells two of the top three preventable causes of death in this county, surely there is a way that a cannabis dispensary can operate without Manteca turning into Beirut.
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.249.3544.