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State and local lawmakers are urging Santa Clara County officials to reverse a decision made last week to ban the sale of recreational cannabis in stores.

When Bay Area officials first instituted a stay-at-home order in mid-March, Santa Clara County deemed cannabis dispensaries were essential businesses, and as such, permitted to remain open.

But just two weeks later, when it was announced last week that the region’s shelter-at-home order would be extended to May 3, the county added a new stipulation that only allowed dispensaries to sell medicinal marijuana in stores and required that recreational cannabis be sold through deliveries.

Santa Clara County appeared to be the only Bay Area county to introduce this new distinction, as spelled out in an FAQ page on its website.

The decision not only sparked backlash from owners and operators of dispensaries but has also raised concerns for some local and state officials that represent the county’s residents.

San Jose council members Pam Foley, Magdalena Carrasco and Maya Esparza penned a letter to Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Sara Cody on Monday requesting that she “reconsider only allowing medicinal cannabis to be purchased within a store, curbside, or by delivery.”

“Today, a resident can walk out of a grocery store with a bottle of Tylenol, but that same person is unable to pull up curbside for pain relief from CBD oil. These individuals in need of relief should not be denied safe access to cannabis during this critical time,” the council members wrote in their letter.

Instead of barring dispensaries from selling recreational marijuana in stores, the officials are asking the county to implement “manageable requirements,” such as the new social distancing protocols that all other essential businesses that have been permitted to stay open must adopt. Those protocols include limiting the number of customers allowed in a store at a time, setting up work stations at least six feet apart and conducting routine sanitation schedules.

State lawmakers Assemblyman Ash Kalra and Senator Jim Beall followed in the San Jose council members’ footsteps and also wrote a letter to the county on Monday addressing their issues with the changes to the order.

Kalra and Beall raised a number of concerns, including a possibility of pushing customers to the black market, long-term impacts on the viability of dispensaries to meet medicinal cannabis needs and a lack of clarity for enforcement of the county’s overall shelter-in-place order.

“The current order has unintentionally led to confusion and places additional requirements on already thinly deployed law enforcement and licensing enforcement personnel,” they wrote in their letter.

Hirsh Jain, director of government affairs for the San Jose dispensary Caliva, called the lack of clarity “unfortunate”, adding that it “puts both dispensaries and those that rely on them for their medicine in a difficult position.”

The county’s order states that only “medical cannabis” can be purchased in-store, but does not define what a “medical cannabis” purchase is.

Santa Clara County Counsel James Williams said in an email Monday evening that the order does not state that people are required to have medical marijuana cards to purchase cannabis products at a dispensary. But, he said, some law enforcement agencies are “choosing to use [the card] as a proxy for whether a person is seeking access for medical purposes.”

Williams did not say whether the county supports the decision by some law enforcement agencies to ask for a medical marijuana card upon entry to a dispensary.

But he defended the stipulation by saying that its purpose — in alignment with the overall goals of the shelter-in-place order — is to reduce the number of people gathering in a certain location.

“Of note, many letters note the large numbers of people who may be seeking in-person access to dispensaries,” Williams wrote in an email. “Even for essential services, everyone is strongly urged to stay at home as much as possible and to reduce and consolidate trips in order to minimize contacts to the greatest degree possible.”

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