San Jose’s top marijuana official has been accused of threatening collectives at a meeting earlier this month. The city, however, disputes the claim.
Assistant City Manager Angelique Gaeta allegedly told cannabis club owners that she would stop working with them if they supported a 2016 ballot measure to replace the city’s pot ordinance.
Elemental Wellness Center director Benson Hausman accused Gaeta of trying to discredit the Sensible San Jose measure at a Dec. 1 meeting with 15 dispensaries.
“She even went so far as to threaten that if support were given to the initiative, she would immediately end all city cooperation with collectives,” he wrote in a letter to the City Council, which was signed by 10 other collectives.
He also accused Gaeta of lying about collectives being unaware of the Sensible San Jose initiative or what it provided.
Gaeta told San Jose Inside she was surprised to read the letter. Most of the three-hour meeting, she said, focused on proposed changes to the ordinance and what would happen once collectives completed their registration.
“We briefly discussed the elements contained in the local initiative,” Gaeta said. “I asked if there were elements that they felt were improvements on the city program.”
The letter didn’t accurately portray her comments and doesn’t represent the majority of the industry, she added, noting that After the meeting her office fielded several calls and emails thanking the city for its work.
“While I am disappointed to see these unfounded allegations made, I and my team will continue to do our professional best to help all of the collectives get through the registration process,” she said.
Additional officials in the city manager’s office defended Gaeta, saying there’s nothing to investigate and she has the backing of City Manager Norberto Dueñas..
“The city manager has full confidence in Angelique, knows her strong professional ethic, her expertise and her demonstrated commitment to customer service,” city spokesman Dave Vossbrink said. “He has heard from other [industry] reps who were present and have a completely different perspective about how the meeting went. He is also well aware of the source of the complaint and was very disappointed that they chose to make an unwarranted personal attack on a staff member who has demonstrated extraordinary patience with them as they work their way through the registration process.”
Collectives have until the end of next week to register with the city, pay all permitting fees and otherwise come into compliance. Last year, somewhere in the neighborhood of 100-plus pot clubs operated in San Jose. Since the council passed its medical marijuana ordinance in the summer of 2014, that number has dwindled to fewer than 20.
The Sensible San Jose initiative, however, threatens to undo the city’s work. With that in mind, city officials agreed to some compromises.
In a 10-1 vote Tuesday, with Councilman Manh Nguyen opposed, the council revised the ordinance to allow clubs to grow marijuana anywhere in California. The rules previously limited grows to Santa Clara County or contiguous counties, but clubs worried that they wouldn’t be able to cultivate enough to keep up with demand.
Other changes allow collectives to make marijuana products off-site and require pot club employees to don a police-issued ID badge.
Pot lobbyists have expressed concerns that the city’s ordinance stands at odds with a new regulatory framework adopted by the state. While San Jose favors vertical integration—that is having a collective manage the plant from seed to sale—the state advises against the model. The idea was to give the city strong oversight in the absence of state rules. But a lot has changed since last year.
“Tough ordinances made sense in June of 2014 and were created in response to the state’s lack of oversight,” San Jose marijuana lobbyist Sean Kali-Rai wrote in a letter to the council, advising them to work closely with collectives to lessen the risk of a ballot measure overturning the local law. “Now California will oversee the industry with strong licensing and oversight laws.”