The city of Sebastopol, 50 miles north of San Francisco, is home to remnants of an experimental farm started by famed 19th century horticulturist Luther Burbank. They don’t grow marijuana on the plot, but the small town, known for its liberal politics and environmental consciousness, can stake a claim to once again being in the forefront of advanced agricultural endeavors of a sort.
On Tuesday, the Sebastopol City Council unanimously selected marijuana dispensary operator Robert Jacob as mayor, making him, perhaps, the first top municipal official in the country to be so blatantly involved in a business considered illegal by the federal government. Jacob is the founder and executive director of Peace in Medicine, a dispensary with outlets in Sebastopol and nearby Santa Rosa.
The 36-year-old mayor opened his first dispensary in 2007, four years before being elected to the Sebastopol Planning Commission. He was elected to the city council in 2011 and was picked by his fellow council members as vice mayor. His official bio says he has managed construction of three international hospitals and was the proprietor of a chain of salons and a charter school.
Jacob was instrumental in writing Sebastopol’s medical marijuana ordinance, said to be a model for other cities in the state. After his selection by the council, Jacob said, “Many people see me as the medical cannabis guy, and true, this is one of my areas of expertise, but most of my adult life has been spent in service; to people with HIV/AIDS, homeless youth, populations who are not treated as equals such as the LGBTQ community, the poor and their need for affordable housing, and immigrants.”
Medical marijuana activists at Safe Access Now praised the “historic, unprecedented vote” for its triumph in bringing “additional legitimacy to the patient community.” Although 80% of Americans support the right to use medical marijuana, that legitimacy is not recognized by the federal government in California and limited by state courts and local jurisdictions.
And just before Thanksgiving, the California Court of Appeal for the Third District Appellate District ruled in James Maral et al v. City Live Oak (pdf) that cities can ban the cultivation of marijuana, even when grown for medical purposes. Live Oak passed an ordinance in December 2011 and successfully defended it in Sutter County Superior Court before winning the appellate review.
Appellate court Justice Elena J. Duarte, citing the Supreme Court, wrote that just because the state made medical marijuana legal, that doesn’t mean local folks can’t prevent its presence: “There is no right—and certainly no constitutional right—to cultivate medical marijuana.”
The Supreme Court suggested in May that state lawmakers pass a clearer law if they want to restrict local government prerogatives.