MARTINEZ — The Contra Costa Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance on Tuesday allowing for the sale and delivery of non-flavored cannabis vaping products, a partial repeal of legislation adopted three years ago that also banned sale of flavored tobacco products.
The new law is intended to ensure that seniors and other adults — in particular those who rely on cannabis for medicinal reasons — have access marijuana vaping products. Proposed by Supervisor Diane Burgis, the ordinance allows permitted cannabis retailers located in unincorporated areas to sell and deliver the products.
The ordinance passed 3-2 with supervisors Federal Glover and Candace Anderson voting no.
During the first reading of the ordinance on Dec. 6, Burgis said the motivation behind the revised ordinance was that the 2019 law hurt seniors and other adults who rely on cannabis vaping products for both recreational and medical reasons. In particular, it affected homebound seniors in unincorporated areas, she said.
“What we’re trying to do by having policies here in Contra Costa County is to give people a way to access safe products,” Burgis said.
At the December meeting, both Glover and Anderson voted against the ordinance, saying it would send mixed messages to the public and betray an effort led by Contra Costa youth who wanted the ban in the first place.
“We clearly took a leadership position back in 2019 when we had a number of our students throughout this county that came before us and asked for the leadership to put this ban in place,” Glover said. “And I’m not going to turn away from that. I think it’s important that that we listen to our youth when they cry out and ask for this help.”
Glover said there is no evidence “that vaping does not cause problems to individuals” and partially lifting the ban would send “false messages or confusing messages to our public that it’s OK to do this this while at the same time saying that we want to prevent it.”
On Tuesday, groups advocating for cannabis access told the Board of Supervisors that banning pot vape products has created an illicit black market for the product and disproportionately affected vulnerable populations who rely on cannabis primarily for medical reasons.
Rene Lee, a resident of the retirement community of Rossmoor who runs an organization with a mission to help seniors legally access and safety use cannabis, said the majority of medicinal cannabis users in the unincorporated community near Walnut Creek prefer vaping.
“I am so happy,” Lee said after Tuesday’s vote. “It’s like a big weight off my shoulders … (the ordinance) had been very unfair.”
Sarah Armstrong of American for Safe Access, the country’s largest and oldest advocacy organization for medical cannabis patients, said forcing people to travel medicinal marijuana “often stimulates a black market because they simply cannot go to the nearest dispensary if they don’t have one near them.”
“The black market is awash with high-potency products, products that are contaminated,” Armstrong told the supervisors. “Anytime you take actions which promote the black market, you do a disservice both to patients, law enforcement and many others who then have to make some choices.”
Before the vote, Burgis emphasized that the ordinance makes no change to the current ban of tobacco and flavored tobacco vaping products; nor does it allow for new dispensaries in unincorporated areas.
“This does allow the sale of one particular set of cannabis products, which are already sold in many cities of Contra Costa County and are available to purchase in nearly every other part of the state that has approved cannabis retail sales,” she said.
In passing the ordinance, the board also directed Contra Costa Health Services to begin working on an awareness program about the dangers of youth cannabis vaping. Supervisor John Gioia said creation of such a program was a major factor in his decision to support the new legislation.