The 3-2 vote came after nearly two hours of public comment and council deliberations.
The city’s regulation places a strict vetting process on prospective pot shops.
Applicants must pay a $10,000 application fee, show they have $300,000 in liquid assets, have a detailed security plan, pass background checks, have at least one manager with previous marijuana industry experience, and find a location that is not within 900 feet of a school, park or daycare center.
The City Council was originally scheduled to vote on the ordinance in June. However, council members who were on the fence asked for more time to consider their vote.
One of them was Edward Spriggs, who was concerned about public safety. At Wednesday’s meeting, he said public testimony compelled him to vote in favor.
“I still have a number of concerns about moving forward, but I think we should,” Spriggs said. “I think the time has come for us to bite the bullet.”
Spriggs voted in favor because having a recreational dispensary will also give people who use medical cannabis easier access to the drug. Additionally, Spriggs said having a shop could help reduce unregulated sales in Imperial Beach.
Council members Robert Patton and Lori Bragg voted against the ordinance.
Patton was originally in favor of the ordinance. However, his support was largely because he favored Imperial Beach’s conservative regulations over more liberal ones proposed by a pro-marijuana group that was pushing for a ballot initiative.
The group collected more than 3,000 signatures and proposed multiple recreational dispensaries and cannabis consumption lounges. However, a filing error prevented them from getting on November’s ballot.
When the threat of the group was off the table, Patton changed his mind on Imperial Beach’s regulations.
“I did a turnaround because we didn’t have the initiative on our back,” he said.
Imperial Beach began looking into regulating cannabis since California voters approved Proposition 64 in November 2016.
Sixty-two percent of voters approved the proposition in Imperial Beach. That was the third-highest percentage of any city in the county.
About 25 people spoke about the ordinance Wednesday night. Nineteen spoke in favor.
Those who opposed the ordinance said they were afraid Imperial Beach would be known for marijuana and that children would have more access to the drug.
Councilman Mark West, who personally visited multiple cities in Colorado and spoke with legislators who had experience regulating marijuana, said that is not what he’s seen in places that regulate marijuana and he doesn’t expect to see it in Imperial Beach.
“This is all around the county, it’s a sea-change that is happening very fast and it’s not killing communities around us,” he said. “It’s not making neighborhoods unsafe. If anything, I think it’s probably making them safer because we’re actually controlling this.”