Sebastopol City Council candidate Robert Jacob, quick with a smile, is a businessman, a member of the local chamber of commerce and Rotary Club, and a good listener. What separates him from other politicians is his job: he's the founder and executive director of a medical-marijuana dispensary.
If elected, the Sebastopol planning commissioner would likely be the first city council member in the state whose occupation and livelihood are directly linked to the precarious balance among state, local and federal laws on marijuana. Jacob's Peace in Medicine dispensaries, in Sebastopol and Santa Rosa, are hailed as model operations; Jacob himself worked closely with city officials to craft Sebastopol's ordinance regulating dispensaries.
In his campaign, Jacob doesn't shy away from the issue, and neither he nor his campaign consultant, Craig Litwin, feels it hinders his electability. "Some people don't appreciate that, and they'll be turned off," says Litwin, a former Sebastopol city council member. "But the majority of the people see that and see it's being done the right way, and really understand that Robert's the right person for the job."
The issues Jacob says he's passionate about, aside from medical marijuana, are the environment and local business. At a kickoff fundraiser Saturday afternoon at the Permaculture Neighborhood Center in Sebastopol, Jacobs promoted these values to a crowd of about 80 supporters.
"When we continue to move in a direction that is about bettering ourselves, about developing a Main Street by not bringing in strip malls to bring in fake economic development, ghost economic development in our town, we are moving in the right direction," he told the crowd.
Though Jacob did not directly declare opposition to the controversial CVS/Chase Bank development proposal at the intersection of highways 12 and 116, he did tell the Bohemian that the city's design review board is "doing its job." (The board has so far rejected four different proposals by CVS.) As a planning commissioner, Jacob hasn't yet had to vote on the issue, but his position may be a foregone conclusion: he is a steering committee member of Cittaslow Sebastopol, whose core values lie in direct opposition to the development.
"When we are different than the homogeny of the 101 corridor or Rohnert Park," Jacobs said Saturday, taking a dig at the bedroom community which has outlawed medical-marijuana dispensaries, "then we are right."
Sebastopol is no stranger to progressive government, and has three times elected Green Party members to its city council. But Jacobs is the first serious candidate so publicly tied to marijuana, and his endorsement list is substantial. In attendance Saturday were several of those endorsers, including Assemblyman Michael Allen, several current and former Sebastopol, Santa Rosa and Petaluma city council members, and former Sonoma County planning commissioners. State Sen. Noreen Evans has also endorsed Jacob, and sent a representative in her place on Saturday.
"When I see assembly members show up," says Litwin, "it indicates we're ready on all levels of state and local government, at least in the majority, to move through this issue and figure out how to really help our nation."
Sebastopol may be the most marijuana-friendly city in the county, with 66 percent of its voters saying yes to Proposition 19, the failed 2010 effort to legalize marijuana in California.
But Cotati still takes the brownie for unofficially mixing cannabis and government. Former Cotati City Council member George Barich had a political career after being arrested on suspicion of growing 500 marijuana plants in his home in 1996. He pleaded no contest to the charge, but never wavered from his "those weren't my plants" stance. The conservative politician ran for city council several times after that, winning a seat briefly in 2008 before being recalled in a much-ballyhooed special election in 2009. And there's that infamous tale of Cotati City Council members in the 1970s planting marijuana outside the front steps of city hall in an act of protest. (The plants were promptly removed and no arrests were made.)
In Sebastopol, Jacob is one of five candidates vying for two open seats on the city council. He's running against one current councilmember, two former councilmembers and one outspoken war critic often seen at council meetings.
Though he is a strong medical-marijuana advocate (he has admitted to using the drug for medicinal purposes in the past), he says, "the core value of why I'm running is I believe in maintaining Sebastopol's unique character as a small town."