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What is motivating the City Council to ponder legalizing Mary Jane sales in The Family City?
Dennis Wyatt
Dennis Wyatt

Across the street from the Bulletin and down the block a few doors is where Trena Kelley triggered a Manteca revolution of sorts. And it wasn’t driven by a desire to increase city tax revenue.

It was at the forerunner to Johnny’s Restaurant where the iconic Patio Drive-In was located for years at 610 East Yosemite Avenue.

Trena was not happy when she noticed students walking home from Manteca High would duck into the restaurant foyer, drop some coin in a vending machine, and leave with a pack of smokes. 

So Trena did what any person who wants to correct what they perceive as a wrong. She didn’t simply complain about it with friends she bumped into at the grocery store — this is what people did before they could stay sequestered at home posting anonymous rants on the Internet and order groceries online. Instead she presented her concerns to parent groups and organized like-minded people who pushed hard to get the Manteca City Council to ban cigarette vending machines in public places where those 18 years and younger could access.

Against rather spirited opposition, Trena and fellow parents succeeded in getting the council to become one of the first — if not actually the first — city in California to ban the placement of cigarette vending machines where minors could access them. This was back in the early 1970s when Manteca had 14,000 residents. Several years later Trena scored two firsts: She was the first directly elected mayor in Manteca and the first woman ever elected to the council.

A lot has changed in nearly 50 years. Manteca now has 71,000 more residents, cigarette vendors machines have gone the way of the dodo bird, and the City Council is now pondering whether to allow the legal sale of marijuana in storefronts.

I don’t have to guess what Trena’s reaction to such a suggestion would be. It is safe to say it would be an earful and that she’d be organizing opposition even though it has yet to become an official point of council discussion.

When Nov. 19 rolls around, the City Council will vote on Mayor Ben Cantu’s proposal to form an ad hoc committee consisting of council members Gary Singh and Jose Nuño to research a possible cannabis ordinance. Although the mayor was a tad vague about what he was talking about, it is basically exploring whether Manteca should allow the retail sale of recreational marijuana in storefronts. It could also entail possibly allowing commercial cannabis grows.

Cantu is no Trojan horse on this issue. He made it clear in his campaign for mayor that he favored having the city consider allowing retail marijuana sales.

It is far from a done deal and could easily by squelched next Tuesday if the council just says “no” to the ad hoc committee.

What needs to happen Tuesday is for the five council members not to simply vote “yeah” or “nay” on Cantu’s proposal.

The city’s 85,000 residents deserve to have council members express their general views or concerns regarding allowing legal marijuana sales in Manteca. This is a major issue with significant ramifications or advantages.

The “why” needs to be addressed before it is turned over to a council subcommittee.

Is the concern to further reduce legal issues for users who may not grow their own so they buy marijuana on the black market?

Is it a bid to reduce crime in Manteca that is associated with the black market? Ask Manteca Police how many home invasions, burglaries, assaults, and even shootings have been connected with illegal marijuana grows and sales over the years.

Or is it simply a way to raise more city revenue by shifting at least some of the illegal sales to legitimate storefronts where it can be regulated and taxed?

This should not be viewed as an attempt to snuff out the idea of legal sales in Manteca when Tuesday rolls around. It’s just that from the get go if people know what the motivation is for such a move and what the concerns are it will make the process more productive. It could also make sure safeguards are built into whatever ordinance language may be proposed.

The council needs to be brutally honest and upfront about their individual and collective intentions.

If the concern is to make marijuana more readily available for medicinal and recreational purposes, that is one thing.

But if it is basically that the sales are happening anyway so the community should benefit at least by being able to collect at least some taxes, then it is a different animal.

The city having more tax dollars should not be the main motivation for legalizing anything.

Imagine how elected leaders would be judged if they suggested an ad hoc committee look into legalizing prostitution so it could be taxed to raise money for civic endeavors on the premise it is happening anyway at choice establishments in Manteca that a quick Internet search by a 12-year-old could ascertain where it is happening. Of course state lawmakers who belong to the world’s second oldest profession haven’t yet made prostitution legal in California.

The argument that it is inevitable so we might as well allow it and tax it does not bode well for the future of civilization. Anything goes is the law of the jungle and not that of a greater community of 85,000 people who have to live together.

If the rationale to move forward was based on trying to clean up messes that the state has created through draconian taxes and their always “friendly” stance toward business, one would hope the ad hoc committee would act accordingly.

Such a position would mean the city might be better off not requiring any special sales tax on marijuana sold in stores. Instead they might be required to install security systems with a direct feed to the Manteca Police Department and pay an annual business fee that reflects a stepped up police presence.

That may sound like Manteca is leaving money on the table but let’s be honest. The reason there is so much black market sales continuing to take place in California along with various crimes connected with the illegal prices of growing and selling, is the fact the state government piled om enough taxes to keep most recreational marijuana sales in the shadows.

Elected officials at times can’t see reality due to their ceaseless drive for more revenue.

Given the misdemeanor nature of the transgression today, would you spend $20 to $25  more for a $50 item just so you can buy it in store?

You might, however, be more willing to pay $5 more in standard taxes to purchase in a store if it is legal to do so plus you know there is more solid quality control.

We see that rationale in a somewhat twisted fashion today when people pass gas stations selling unleaded for 30 cents per gallon cheaper on the assumption there is something not quite up to standard by an off-brand.

The council can’t simply sell this as an issue of Manteca leaving big bucks on the table. Nearly  50 years ago their predecessors didn’t let the loss of cigarette tax revenue stop them from taking a course of action that was done for and foremost to improve the community and reduce illegal sales.

Can you imagine  the possibilities for better social and legal outcomes if a cannabis ordinance was molded not on the promise of generating tons of money but instead was based on a desire to reduce crime and other societal issues?

If the council can resist milking marijuana sales for more tax revenue beyond standard rates Manteca might such be able to put some illegal sellers out of business. That’s something  the state has failed miserably to do since recreational marijuana was legalized in California in 2016.

And who knows, maybe the council can come up with a plan — if implemented — assures that downtown Manteca doesn’t get the honor of having trendy cannabis shops added to its repertoire of issues.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209.249.3519.