As recreational marijuana goes legal in California, the City of Chula Vista is looking to steer its licensing power toward “high-quality” retail cannabis businesses, while Imperial Beach will be answering many residents who favor a heavy hand of regulation.
In public workshops on the subject last week, both cities took steps toward setting out the rules and regulations that will govern the cultivation, manufacture, distribution and sale of marijuana products in their communities under Proposition 64.
Chula Vista is considerably farther along in the process, with a 23-page draft ordinance already reviewed by the City Council even though no licenses would be issued there until Jan. 1, 2019.
Neither of the South County cities seem inclined to prohibit recreational marijuana businesses altogether.
But regulation is harder than it looks: The State of California is issuing 22 different types of licenses for cannabis-related business, and topics covered in the proposed Chula Vista ordinance include a required “community relations” liaison with surrounding residences.
Citizens’ initiatives circulated in both communities, meanwhile, could open up a much freer approach than elected officials want unless their backers can be convinced to withdraw them.
Here is a look at where both cities stand following workshops devoted to the subject:
The draft ordinance presented to the council last week would allow up to three cannabis retail licenses in each of the city’s four council districts, with no limit on the number of businesses devoted to cultivation, manufacturing, distribution and testing.
It would impose a 150-foot buffer around residences and a 1,000-foot buffer around schools and other locations frequented by youth. In the workshop, prospective marijuana entrepreneurs objected to several details of the draft ordinance. Issues that appeared to have the biggest impact with the council included:
• A proposed prohibition on deliveries and medicinal-marijuana sales from storefront retailers. Several council members said they didn’t understand the rationale for the limit on deliveries, and both industry representatives and several users of medical marijuana said the high number of illegal dispensaries in Chula Vista shows a need to make the product more readily available.
• Proposed regulations separating retail marijuana operations from residential zones that critics said could rule out vast swaths of otherwise suitable commercial property. Council members Patricia Aguilar and Stephen Padilla said they shouldn’t be set so tight that there aren’t at least some locations in each of the city’s four council districts.
• Making a felony arrest – not just conviction – grounds for suspension or revocation of a city license.
In other aspects, however, council members thought the draft ordinance might be too loose.
It proposes a lottery to award licenses from among a pool of applicants who survive a stringent background, financial and criminal check. Several council members, however, said they favor a more selective approach, allowing administrators to pick the winners.
“I’d like to be able to judge these candidates on how they actually perform,” said John McCann, envisioning a system that involves “picking the highest-quality operators.”
Mayor Mary Casillas Salas and Council member Mike Diaz both said they would favor some form of standards for employees of cannabis businesses.
Also drawing questions was the absence of a numeric limit on licenses for cultivation and distribution facilities.
“That seems to imply that these manufacturing facilities are going to be able to deliver their product out of the city,” Aguilar said.
An ad hoc committee that includes two council members has been exploring the issue since March but has not yet presented proposed regulations for council approval. Its Dec. 11 workshop – which attracted an overflow crowd of about 70 Imperial Beach residents – was devoted primarily to public input.
“You actually get to be part of the process,” Council member Mark West told the audience.
In a survey passed out and tabulated at the workshop, 56 percent of residents attending said they thought commercial cannabis businesses should be allowed to operate in their city.
About 87 percent said that if commercial businesses are allowed, there should be limits on the number, location and type.
About 81 percent opposed operation in residential zones.
The hour of public testimony followed familiar lines in the age-old marijuana debate, with advocates touting the benefits of medical marijuana, new revenues from taxes and the opportunity to eliminate a black market, while opponents decried a wider exposure of drugs to youth.
“Imperial Beach should jump on this,” said resident Greg Neil. “This is bigger than dot-com, bigger than cable TV.”
Deanna Rose said she has been using cannabis to treat pain and arthritis for decades. “Alcohol is more dangerous and harmful to the body than cannabis,” she said.
“I don’t want to see storefronts in our community,” said resident Carol Green. “No amount of money is going to bring back kids that get addicted to drugs.”
“The issue is the health, safety and welfare of our community and our citizens here,” said Ron Moody. “It’s all about dollars and cents for the people who run the clinics. It’s not about medicinal use.”
With its compact density and a distribution of schools and parks, Imperial Beach could have fewer spots open for marijuana businesses depending on the circumference of any protective buffer zones, according to maps shown at the workshop. That could steer many such businesses into the State Route 75/Palm Avenue corridor, assistant city manager Steve Dush said.