At Town Council Meeting President of San Anselmo Chamber Shocks with White Only Remark

Last week I happened to tune into my local San Anselmo Town Council meeting, only to hear neighbors speak for and against the Town Council’s attempts to refuse to permit legal cannabis stores under Proposition 64, where Marin County voted to legalize marijuana. Last night, the Town Council sought to take extreme measures with a vote before it to change the City Plan, so that the idea of a local Cannabis store would be forever eradicated. There was the added option of an Ordinance instead of changing the Town Plan, which would in effect mean the Town Council would be able to follow a process to continue to consider whether or not to permit a cannabis store. Changing the Town Plan would bring an end to quests for a store under Prop 64, in effect a final solution, dismissing applications to the Town by potential store owners, some of whom had already invested in the possibilities. One supporter for changing the Town Plan to ban is Mr. Benedetto Cico, the head of the San Anselmo Chamber of Commerce. He made that clear when he stood up for public comment and in my estimation, disparaged our entire Town in his discourse.

I showed up to tonight’s meeting to present my 3 minute remarks. I wanted to come at the topic from human rights angle to show that changing the Town Plan to ban marijuana stores, whether medicinal or recreational, under the circumstances of the Pop 64 vote, is in fact oppressive.

Benedetto Cico,

I used Mandela in giving this human rights perspective to the issue at hand. I noted that in Apartheid, South Africa we were banned from seeing pictures of Mandela – and the majority voice was voiceless.  I gave this as an example of oppression where a minority shuts down the majority! This was merely an example of oppression.

A man by the name of Benedetto Cicco, who apparently is the proprietor of the San Anselmo Inn, as well as head of the Chamber of Commerce of the town reprimanded me publicly in his remarks for daring to employ the example of Mandela. In his remarks he lashed out specifically at me, tone severe, saying that San Anselmo is the “whitest town ” and therefore that person ‘should ‘not use Mandela in talking about our town?’* (see precise transcript quote below.*

I almost fell off my chair. Not only at the comment itself, but at the audacity to say that, on camera, in front of a Town Council and in the effect, the entire town! Not one Town Council Member reprimanded him! It was, in my opinions a racist remark.

And so I decided to ask him to explain, giving him an opportunity to retract. Instead he doubled down! . After the meeting I went up to him, asked his name and to confirm what he said, which he did.

Then I asked if he would explain his remark. I told him I planned to blog about it and am giving him the opportunity to explain what he meant because it comes across sounding racist. I also mentioned it seemed he did not understand my comment and offered him a copy of my remarks to get a better read, and he refused.  He said he did not care, saying “I am not interested in a black criminal in a comparison to our town . A criminal who went to jail for many years and so …..”….. rant…. walks off…..

Though Mr. Cicco did say he was speaking for himself and not on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce, one cannot ignore the fact that this man who leads that Chamber, is the face of our merchants, while sporting this sentiment, whether representing in that moment or not. It is now incumbent on the rest of the merchants of San Anselmo to disassociate from these remarks, failing which they could be seen to be standing with Chico on his comments!

I told him I would be calling for his resignation from Chamber of Commerce, as I believe his remarks to be out of keeping with our towns businesses values.   He said go ahead and that he didn’t care.

According to the Patch, Mr. Cicco has been known to promote the San Anselmo Inn to the European market, and has been featured in Magazine in Italy. If he can say this publicly, I wonder what he is capable of saying in smaller applications , even those pertaining to his position?

I can only wonder what next?  I plan to send this BLOG piece to the Town Council for comment.

By the way, with a 3 to 2 vote the Council ignored their human rights obligations to freedom – succumbed to the most ridiculous of arguments imaginable, such as – ‘If my kid sees a weeds store, they may think its a good thing,…. ‘how do I explain to my 5 year old why she cannot go in to that store’….. etc… and arguments that ignore that their kids are doing illicit weed withOUT a pot store here, for the past 50 years, anyway! Of the 20 plus neighbors commenting, bar a handful, most seemed to think that the San Anselmo Town Council was abdicating its duty to its majority citizens. The conclusions by those Council members who voted for the changed plan had flawed and weak arguments.   I will report later on the comments made by the Town Council- And you can try catch the Video recording on local TV.

By the way San Anselmo is the town where George Lucas has lived for many years, together with his wife. They are the patrons of Imagination Park in our Town Center, memorializing our connection to Star Wars!

My Full Remarks:

Greetings- After seeing this issue on Public TV, I decided I would be remiss in not coming down to offer this perspective:

To speak for my community as a collective-as a whole and as a majority community.  I am a human rights lawyer working in the global arena, knowing oppression when I see it.

Off the bat I will say I am not into marijuana. It’s not my thing! However I believe, because its legal,  it’s a basic human rights and democratically imperative to allow a store. If soap is legal one expects to have a store that sells soap. If alcohol is legal one expects to have a store that sells alcohol. And yes of course with appropriate rules and  regulations.

I immigrated from Apartheid SA in the 80’s before Mandela was released. Society was oppressed. Among many abuses, we were even censored from reading about Mandela or seeing a picture of him.  This banning by government was helmed by their belief – that government was protecting us. And in that belief they had robbed the majority of their vote and voice!  This was all in the name of an offensive smelly paternalism, exactly that which I have noticed here tonight.

But the truth was government was protecting no one. It was looking out for only a few noisy people, the minority. And all the while it was oppressing the majority of the people.

Well here in Marin the Majority voted to be able legalize marijuana -Over 75% of San Anselmo voted for Marijuana’s legalization- and hence tacitly envisioned stores – just like alcohol sales.  We were all over 18 and of sound mind and very much in our citizenry when we executed those votes. Now it is your job to make it happen for us – not shut it down – for a small  handful of people who have shown up tonight.

As a town council I believe you have a duty to make legal marijuana have a venue to happen for that majority, not to shut it down. You have a duty to create the rules and terms and conditions that hears your majority while protecting all. And it is possible. Not impossible as you seem to want to have people believe.

To the concerned mothers and fathers? Why can you NOT control your children? Why do you expect everyone else to shutter down in their responsible adulthood because you fear that you  cannot keep marijuana out of the hands of your child? And in truth the notion that you are protecting them is a misnomer. Many are using now, behind your backs, regardless, and shockingly some with parents knowing. Finding it through untaxed illicit means.  You can actually shut that down with the opening of local stores . When prohibition ended – so did illicit alcohol.

In fact by allowing a store and mitigating illegality, you are doing more to protect your kids than be oppressing the basic rights of others.

I would far rather live in a town where people are not forced to go underground to illegal and illicit sources for their legal recreation needs,  or be shipped off to provide revenue to some other neighboring town, we can take those dollars here – in failing San Anselmo!

When voting the majority of people in this town and county sought to trust you to make the rules pertaining to marijuana sales, they did not trust you to shut it down completely. THAT is oppressive. It boils down to repressive taboo and taint and hence judgement all serving to oppress our democracy and human rights in this beautiful town.-  Do not be afraid to adhere to your mandate.

So San Anselmo and wider Marin – what do you think of San Anselmo when you hear the words of the president of the Chamber of Commerce?

The San Anselmo Town Council:

Ford Greene, Mayor    VOTED against the Motion to Change Town Plan

Brian Colbert, Vice Mayor   VOTED to change the Town Plan to Ban Cannabis Stores

John Wright       VOTED to change the Town Plan to Ban Cannabis Stores

Alexis Fineman    VOTED against the Motion to Change Town Plan

Steve Burdo      VOTED to change the Town Plan to Ban Cannabis Stores


Updated Transcript Quote – from Video on Town Council website:
“I’m sorry but somebody to talk about the civil rights issue about getting your dope in the ‘whitest town’ in California, San Anselmo and comparing that to Mandela in jail to me seems a stretch is a bad faith and disrespectful for civil rights and people who actually suffered.”


By Melanie Nathan
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