“Pot promoters eye town as bud hub” read the headline in my local newspaper. And there, leading the charge to bring newly legal recreational marijuana to the sleepy town of San Anselmo, CA, was Patrick Fasano, our family optician.
“How’s this going to work?” Rich asked me over morning coffee. “First Patrick makes sure you can see clearly, then he helps the world get fuzzy?”
“Talk about one-stop shopping!” I said.
The next day, I strolled the few blocks from my front door to Focus Opticians for a closer look at the subject.
Patrick is enthusiastic about starting Oh Yes, I Cannabis, Inc. and transforming Focus Opticians into Focus Poticians. It’s been more than a year since California joined 29 other states and the District of Columbia in legalizing weed, but the town council still isn't on board with the idea.
Among Patrick’s supporters is San Anselmo Councilman Ford Greene, who said, “I’ve smoked pot almost every day of my life since I was 14. And it hasn’t damaged my ability to … wait, what was I saying?” No, I’m just kidding. What he actually said was, “And it hasn’t damaged my ability to add two and two.” Although for the record, he did not specify what sum they added up to. And to be honest, even if he did the math correctly, that strikes me as a pretty low bar. However, a lifetime of pot smoking hasn’t prevented Greene from pursuing a busy career as a lawyer, political activist, cult-buster, and former mayor — now vice mayor — of the town. He scoffed at the objections of some residents that Patrick’s plan would draw an undesirable element to this family-friendly town of 12,599 souls.
“We’re still trying to overcome Reefer Madness stereotypes,” Greene said, referring to the lurid 1936 propaganda film about “the burning weed with its roots in hell.”
When I was a teenager, everyone used to sit around smoking pot and roaring at the film’s depiction of high school students whose first puff of marijuana began a rapid descent into depravity, crime, and the insane asylum. This image wasn’t far from the mainstream media’s persistent message at the time, thanks to Richard Nixon’s decision to invent the war on drugs for his own political purposes.
Top Nixon advisor John Ehrlichman said in a 1994 interview, “You want to know what this was really all about? The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did.”
Despite the Nixon administration’s vigorous and unscrupulous efforts, marijuana remains wildly popular; 48% of Americans have tried it, 7.5% use it regularly, and an increasing number of cancer patients, aging baby boomers, and others rely on it to ease their aches and pains — or simply to relax and have a little fun.
Will the presence of a recreational cannabis dispensary unleash reefer madness on the streets of San Anselmo? I doubt it. Plenty of San Anslemans already use marijuana obtained from medical pot shops or grown in their own backyards, and these good citizens continue to hold jobs, raise families, and conduct the town’s business. Am I worried legal weed will lower the tone of the neighborhood? Frankly, we already have plenty of eccentrics wandering our streets, often in pajamas, inside-out clothing, or what appear to be goddess gowns or hobbit outfits. As near as I can ascertain, our oddball population is more about offbeat lifestyle choices than drugs. There’s a lot of truth in the old "continental tilt theory" that says everything loose rolls to California.
“I conducted my own poll of business owners on San Anselmo Avenue,” said Patrick. “And nearly everyone is in favor of Focus Poticians.” Proprietors of local eateries are among his staunchest supporters. No doubt these savvy entrepreneurs are looking for an uptick in income from potheads with the munchies.
And that’s another point in Patrick’s favor: boosting the town’s sagging economy. High rents have driven out nearly all the antique stores for which the town was once famous, and San Anselmo has lost its destination location status. Combined with America's "retail apocalypse," local commerce is in a slump, and there’s a depressing abundance of vacant store fronts.
Focus Poticians could help turn that around, says Patrick. “The projected revenues from cannabis sales in Marin County are $70 million this year. Based on what we’ve seen in towns with similar demographics in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, my first year income projection is $3 million. The town gets to set the tax rate, so I’m expecting 10% of that to go to San Anselmo.”
In addition to generating retail sales and tax revenues, the presence of pot shops supports the budding marijuana tourism industry. In Oregon, which some describe as "almost like the Silicon Valley of weed," visitor centers display pot tour maps and brochures describing "things to do while high." Colorado is offering cannabis foodie tours, which seems a combo made in heaven. Companies such as California Cannabis Tours escort groups to marijuana farms and dispensaries where, they assured me, if I can show ID proving I'm 21 people will be happy to sell me cannabis in many forms, including plants and edibles.
Economic data remains a bit hazy, but some estimates suggest California's legal marijuana will soon be a $10 billion industry generating thousands of jobs. Will one of them be Patrick the Potician of San Anselmo? "I hope so," he says. "To me, it's one of the rights enshrined in the Declaration of Independence: the pursuit of happiness."
Do you live in a pot-friendly community? Have you tried one of the new cannabis tours? Is legalizing recreational marijuana progress or a descent into reefer madness?
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I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
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