Oceanside’s first cannabis nursery gets nod from planners, heads to City Council

Marijuana grows at an indoor cannabis farm in Gardena, Calif., in 2019.

ZenLeaf LLC plans to operate four greenhouses in South Morro Hills


Planning commissioners unanimously have recommended approval for what would be Oceanside’s first legal cannabis nursery in the agricultural region along North River Road in South Morro Hills.

The site is owned by DM Color Express, a wholesale grower and distributor of seasonal bedding plants, succulents, shrubs, trees and other commercial nursery products.

The company Zenleaf LLC plans to lease about 10 acres and begin cannabis cultivation in an existing 20,000-square-foot greenhouse. As Zenleaf grows it intends to build three more greenhouses, 22,410 square feet each, at the location and expand into those buildings, said Rob Dmohowski, a city senior planner, in a Feb. 8 presentation to the Oceanside Planning Commission.

All plants will be cloned and grown indoors in above-ground containers, Dmohowski said. The facility will have 14 employees and 49 parking spaces. Video surveillance and an on-site security guard will be present at all times.

Zenleaf needs a waiver for the location because the business is less than the required minimum of 1,000 feet from the nearest residential district. However, staffers said, the nearest house in that district is more than 1,000 feet away, and the entire residential district is on the other side of the San Luis Rey River and not easily accessible to the nursery by anyone on foot.

Three speakers at the commission meeting, including Judi Strang, executive director of the San Dieguito Alliance for Drug Free Youth, said the nursery will be too close to homes and that the city should deny the distance waiver. However, the applicant said all the nearby residents had been notified of the application and none had objected.

“This looks like a very good project,” said Planning Commission Chairman Tom Rosales. “We welcome it, and we wish the applicant all the best.”

The commission voted 6-0, with Commissioner Susan Custer absent, to recommend the Oceanside City Council approve conditional-use permits and the location waiver for the project, which could happen at a meeting in the next few weeks.

“I’m glad that we’ve got another crop for farmers to grow, and keep Oceanside’s agricultural region agricultural,” said Commissioner Louise Balma.

Cultivation can only begin after the company obtains a state license and demonstrates compliance with all conditions of approval.

Oceanside’s large commercial growers have long pushed for cannabis legalization as a replacement for traditional crops such as tomatoes and cut flowers that are being pushed out of North County by the high costs of water, labor and real estate.

Zenleaf’s business plan states that it will propagate plants using a tissue culture process, grow the plants to the flowering stage, harvest and dry the flowering plants, grade and trim the flowers, then bundle the medical cannabis into 50-pound batch containers for transportation by a licensed distributor.

A variety of growing mediums will be used, depending on the strain of cannabis, but the majority will use hydroponic methods because of its sustainability and environmental benefits.

“Our cultivation approach is deeply rooted in the science of cannabis,” states the plan on file with the city. “Because we are experts in the genetics of cannabis plants, we have a unique ability to propagate cannabis strains with desirable characteristics to help qualified medical cannabis patients.”

Oceanside first adopted an ordinance legalizing commercial medical cannabis businesses on April 11, 2018, and has modified the ordinance several times since then. Initially, the ordinance limited cannabis cultivation licenses to five, which was subsequently increased to 12.

The city’s voters Nov. 3 approved a cannabis business tax, Measure M, and in December the City Council set the rate at 1.5 percent of gross revenue for cultivation.

Zenleaf is the first of the cultivation applicants to reach the Planning Commission hearing, but others are at various stages of the process.

In May 2020, the City Council approve MedLeaf Delivery, a delivery-only cannabis dispensary in an industrial park near the city’s airport.

The city also approved Left Coast Extracts, a manufacturing facility that makes vaping products, in an industrial building on Ord Way in eastern Oceanside near Vista.