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Editor's Corner: City Council takes a look at ‘Maderajuana’

David Hale, an attorney who specializes in representing California cities contemplating being hosts for various marijuana businesses, told the Madera City Council on Wednesday night that despite the shady reputation of marijuana, a city or county potentially can benefit from having marijuana businesses within their borders.

“It’s about money and medicine,” he said. Lots of money. Tax revenues. Jobs.

He said the legal market in marijuana is considered by experts likely to bring in $7.2 billion in trade to California next year — the first year it will be legal under the marijuana-legalization proposition passed by voters in 2016.

He said there was no doubt about the money and the jobs, because other states that have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, such as Colorado, have experienced those two benefits.

As for the medical benefits, he said, the jury is still out.

He said he could find very little empirical evidence that marijuana has any medicinal value at all, and that the medical community generally agrees that is the case. He said its value seems to be as a soporific — a mild to strong drug or other agent that when smoked or taken internally induces sleep, drowsiness and/or mild euphoria.

He said federal drug laws still rate marijuana as a Class 1 drug, ranking it with heroin in its danger potential.

But voters in many states don’t see the reason for that ranking, and pass laws decriminalizing marijuana, as California did. The federal government so far has winked at marijuana use in states that have decriminalized cannabis, but the federal laws against marijuana, its sale and use, are on the books and could be enforced to the letter, as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has threatened to do.

One federal law that inconveniences legal vendors of marijuana and products made from it are banking regulations that make it illegal for banks to take money from criminal activities.

Banks generally won’t accept deposits from marijuana businesses, even though they can be substantial and almost always in cash.

“It’s a cash business,” Hale said. A lot of marijuana businesses have big vaults in the back to keep their money in. It can be a problem for them.”

Another problem is what Hale called land-use compatibility. When marijuana businesses move into a town, investors precede them, buying up land and buildings to use in their enterprises. Locals often protest vehemently.

Hale will be back to present two more workshops on the subject.

The council is educating itself on the law and on how marijuana trade could help the city balance its budget, although there is no indication Madera will become Maderajuana anytime soon.

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