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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Meet America's First Marijuana Mayor: Sebastopol's Robert Jacob

Posted By on Thu, Dec 5, 2013 at 8:00 AM

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Wednesday was not a day to get things done for Robert Jacob. His first day on the job as the mayor of Sebastopol -- a town of 7,500 in Sonoma County, with politics so left-wing that makes Berkeley seem that liberal -- was chock-full of meetings that were interrupted by a barrage of calls from big media outlets.

Jacob's selection as mayor during Tuesday's City Council meeting (Sebastopol's chief executive is selected from its part-time council members) is newsworthy, not because he's Mexican-Iranian or gay (which would be news in 99 percent of the rest of America). It's news because Jacob, 36, runs two medical cannabis dispensaries.

In other words, Jacob is considered the highest office-holder in the United States involved in the marijuana industry.

In ultra-progressive Sebastopol, where Green Party members top the polls, the Council named an official day for the local Occupy movement, and where new construction must include solar panels, marijuana use is not a controversial issue.

It's not weird for a professional marijuana dispenser like Jacob -- the top vote-getter in last year's election as well as the top fundraiser -- to sit down with meetings with the chief of police (who he's known for years) or to hobnob with the business types on the Chamber of Commerce (he's an active member).

But it was not always so. Upon arriving in Sonoma County about a decade ago -- following eight years in San Francisco, where he worked in the Castro on HIV/AIDS issues and with homeless youth in sight of Dennis Peron's Castro dispensary -- Jacob found cannabis users "hiding in their homes," he told SF Weekly during a telephone interview Wednesday.

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"People were living in fear and feeling bad about themselves," Jacob said, describing the public perception around pot. "You had a whole group of people living in shame. It was a disenfranchised community, inappropriately judged."

The Sebastopol location of Peace in Medicine opened in 2007. Those same people became his patients and customers, and came out of hiding. "Every patient who walked out was one step closer to going home and calling Mom and saying, 'I'm a medical cannabis patient'" just as Jacob did. At that time, the mayor professed no early interest in politics and "didn't believe in the system," he said.

"I didn't open a medical cannabis dispensary to become an elected official," he said. "That's not the route you take."

But navigating the planning process with his dispensaries landed him a seat on the Planning Commission in 2011. That gave him nuts-and-bolts government experience. Combined with a taste of politics gleaned from working on the marriage equality struggle, he decided to give City Council a shot the following year.

"We thought it'd be a great run, to get some issues out there and to get some young people registered," he said. "And then we won."

With a record amount of votes, no less.

He's idealistic : He says immigration reform is just as much a priority as filling potholes , which makes him a fine pitchman for the marijuana movement (he was sent to Washington to speak to Congress about drug reform).

Yet even a quick talk with the newly minted mayor makes it obvious that marijuana isn't the reason why Jacob won. He won because he's a smart and successful businessman with ideals shared by the people he represents. In short, he's an ideal politician.

But if it's the weed that earns him ink, so be it.

"If that's what's breaking news, it's an opportunity to bring cannabis further into normalcy," he said. "It's exciting to get out a message of progress, and make it less news when the next guy with similar values is elected mayor."

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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