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Brand huddles with Bredefeld, extends marijuana debate to March 30

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Council President Clint Olivier is officially taking a “wait and see” attitude toward debate on recreational marijuana in Fresno.

“There’s a lot of stuff to look into,” Olivier told me on Tuesday. “Obviously, public safety is foremost in my mind. I don’t know where Chief Dyer is on it.”

“It,” of course, is recreational marijuana. The Chief told me via a text message that he’s currently not in a position to publicly explain the Police Department’s position on the issue.

Returning to the Council President, it’s important to keep in mind that Olivier in six-plus years on the council has never swayed from his strong libertarian principles.

To put it mildly, libertarians generally view with a jaundiced eye the government’s interference in the private affairs of citizens. California voters in November approved by a comfortable margin Proposition 64, legalizing the regulated sale/use of recreational marijuana.

Unofficially, don’t be surprised if Olivier serves as the swing vote that makes recreational marijuana dispensaries a reality in Fresno.

When that vote comes is unknown – but it’s probably fast approaching. The City Council will hold a special meeting on March 30 to debate recreational marijuana dispensaries.

Prop. 64 gives City Hall the authority to regulate or ban dispensaries. Mayor Lee Brand in a speech at Fresno State last week said the city could reap as much as $10 million a year through the dispensaries’ licensing fees. He said $10 million could hire a lot of cops. He also said he’s not taking a firm position until the marijuana issue is thoroughly vetted with the public.

Council Member Garry Bredefeld in a recent CVObserver op-ed explained in detail why he plans to introduce legislation that would ban the dispensaries.

Olivier told me that he has no doubt cities near Fresno will decide to regulate dispensaries within their jurisdictions.

His message: Banning dispensaries in Fresno will not keep recreational marijuana out of the hands of Fresno consumers. But a Fresno ban would keep tax revenue out of Fresno’s coffers.

“I think drug prohibition is very similar to alcohol prohibition,” Olivier said.

His message: You don’t have to be a history buff to know how Prohibition in the 1920s and early 1930s turned out for America’s social order.

“I don’t know,” Olivier said in conclusion. “We’ll see.”

Behind the scenes at City Hall, the Administration and the City Council are working hard to clear things up.

The Brand administration, much like the Ashley Swearengin administration before it, prefers to avoid big policy fights in a losing cause that ultimately deliver little more than political grandstanding. Toward that end, Brand met with Bredefeld on Monday to discuss the latter’s possible ban proposal.

Bredefeld had originally planned to introduce the bill on March 9. That timeline has been put on hold.

“I’ve voted consistently against marijuana dispensaries so I’m inclined to support a ban,” Mayor Lee Brand said in a statement provided to CVObserver. “[H]owever, I also think it’s important to fully research this issue and give everyone on Council the chance to discuss it thoroughly before coming to a final decision.”

Brand in a text message and Bredefeld during a phone call confirmed both the Monday meeting and the expectation of a March 30 special meeting. (Olivier as council president must call it; Clint told me Tuesday afternoon that the special meeting is a go.)

“The Mayor said he wants to do more due diligence on his part,” Bredefeld told me. “He wanted a little more time.”

Bredefeld said that’s fine by him. However, he added, the extra time won’t change his stance on recreational marijuana. (Bredefeld in his CVObserver piece said he supports medical marijuana for the “truly ill.”)

Recreational marijuana “is a terrible thing for our community and destructive of our youth,” Bredefeld told me. “Hopefully, the council will make a good decision.”

Perhaps by March 30 we’ll know precisely where President Trump stands on state/local regulation of recreational marijuana.

George Hostetter is The Sun’s Fresno Civic contributor – covering the City of Fresno, County of Fresno, and Fresno Council of Governments.

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