When a smoke shop opened up in the historic and highly visible Anderson Bank Building on the corner of Second and G Streets this month, some Davis residents raised their eyebrows in disdain.
Concerned about what some saw as thinly disguised drug paraphernalia, the Davis City Council took note and discussed the possibility of creating an ordinance that would limit the ability of smoke shops to set up in prime spaces downtown. Fortunately, the council decided not to pursue the idea any further.
This was the right choice, for a number of reasons.
For one, the fact that any business is opening or upgrading in economic times like this should be music to the ears of city leaders who are grappling with a multi-million dollar budget shortfall due to declining sales tax revenue.
This is especially relevant with the Anderson Bank Building, which seems to have trouble retaining its retail tenants. Illusions, the business in question, is next door to the former home of Togo’s, which has sat empty for over nine months. Two doors down, De Colores Fair Trade Gifts is on its way out too.
And it’s not like there are dozens of head shops just waiting to descend on Davis and turn downtown into the Haight of the Central Valley. This point was made by former Davis Mayor Bill Kopper, an attorney who represents the owner of Illusions. It’s the only smoke shop in Davis, and it’s been here for over four years at 140 B St. in its previous incarnation as D-Zone Novelties.
Moreover, as Davis Police Chief Landy Black pointed out, there is nothing illegal about anything sold in Illusions unless the intended use is illegal. Every smoking implement the store owners sell is intended for use with tobacco. We’ll be the first to wager that most of the customers are putting marijuana in those glass blown pipes, but that is a personal choice and not something for which the store owners should be held accountable.
And as city councilmember Stephen Souza noted, there are in fact people in Davis and the region who have a legitimate need for paraphernalia to help them consume medical marijuana.
What was particularly concerning about the City Council’s discussion this month, however, were some of the statements made by the voting minority of Mayor Ruth Asmundson and Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor.
Asmundson said she wanted to do something about tobacco-related businesses because Davis is “supposed to be a no-smoking community … [and this] is sort of contradicting the values of what we’re trying to promote in this community.” Saylor said he was disappointed that this would be one of the first things visitors see when they get off the train, and advised residents to take a look at what their children could see as they walk down the street.
The fact is this is America, where a belief in freedom and the necessity of a free market has made us one of the most prosperous, powerful countries in history. Though morals and community values matter, they should never take precedence over freedom. That is what is truly at stake here, and since Illusions and similar shops are doing nothing illegal, they should not be held to a different standard just because they don’t fit nicely with the image of Davis some want to portray.