Valley News -

By Tony Ault
Staff Writer 

San Jacinto City Council approves amended cannabis ordinance on first reading; more discussion coming

 

Last updated 4/12/2019 at 7:18am



After an hourlong emotional discussion with San Jacinto council members and residents to amend the city’s cannabis ordinances which would allow dispensaries and testing laboratories in town, the council found approval on the first reading at the Tuesday, April 2, meeting.

The council, in a majority vote, approved the first reading of the ordinance amendments. But their final approval would come after more discussion and clarification during a second reading. The second reading of the amended ordinances will come at a later public meeting to be announced at the San Jacinto Community Center.

The long list of amendments to the city’s current ordinances which prohibit dispensaries but allow limited indoor and outdoor cultivation and distribution in specific areas of the city include necessary changes dictated by the state under Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. Proposition 64 was passed by the majority of voters in 2016 and allows the adult in-home growing and use of recreational marijuana, but cities were allowed to create their own regulations in the cultivation of commercial cannabis; it was allowed by the state but is still prohibited by the federal government.

The proposed San Jacinto amendments are in Title 3, Title 9 and Title 17 of the city’s Municipal Code for Cannabis Oriented Businesses and Uses.

Amendments questioned

Bringing the most questions from Councilwoman Crystal Ruiz and a strong objection by Councilman Alonzo Ledezma were portions of the proposed amendments lifting the prohibition of cannabis dispensaries, testing laboratories and microbusinesses in the general commercial, business park and limited industrial zones of the city.

Currently, outside of Proposition 64’s indoor cultivation and use of marijuana as a recreational drug in residential areas, San Jacinto ordinances allow permitted commercial indoor cannabis cultivation only on parcels located south of Cottonwood Avenue and north of Brinton Street and outdoor cultivation to limited parcels north of Cottonwood Avenue and west of Sanderson Avenue.

The city has approved the issuance of eighth indoor and eight outdoor cannabis growing permits to qualified growers who pay the required fees. While some permits have been issued and fees paid, the growers have not been able to proceed due to the council still debating the regulatory issues passed down by the state and clarifications of their own ordinances.

Ledezma, since Proposition 64 was passed by the state’s voters, has voiced his objection to having any commercial cannabis growers come into the city seeing cannabis as “drug” yet reluctantly with the other council members passed ordinances, opening the doors to commercial cultivation of cannabis or marijuana in the city as permitted by state law.

Ledezma in the discussion noted he has said “no, no, no” but recounted and said yes on the basis the city was going to make money with the taxes coming from the permitted commercial cannabis grows. That night he presented the fact that less money promised by the grower taxes has reached the city’s coffers.

“But it’s not about city, people. This is not about city; this is about a group of people and a couple of councilmens that’s going to pocket money into their pockets and this is not fair. This is not fair. Once they sold the city, they walk away from the city, laughing with a lot of money in their pocket,” he said.

Mayor cautions councilman

He was instructed by Mayor Russ Utz not to talk about members of the council on the dais and to stay on topic.

“You’re not going to tell me what to say,” Ledezma retorted. “I’m telling you facts.”

He mentioned his agreement on the first proposed three commercial outdoor and one indoor cannabis grows, but no dispensaries made in 2016 with the acknowledgement there would be no more discussion on cannabis grows in the city again by the council.

The discussions, because of the changes in state law, continued with Ledezma continuing his objections to the issue in the ensuing months. He said it was his belief that “This city does not need marijuana to survive,” and he would continue to fight over this belief.

Some very loud coughing from someone in the audience attempted to interrupt Ledezma’s comments, until the police escorted the person from the building.

At the conclusion of the proposed cannabis ordinances amendments made by city Community Development Director Travis Randel and hearing from councilman Ledezma, Ruiz opened a notebook, filled with sticky notes with questions about the proposed cannabis ordinance amendments.

“Sorry, it’s a book,” Ruiz told Randel who was waiting to answer the council’s questions, “because I was so upset about what was going on.”

Her questions focused on where the growers were placing their money since federally insured banks cannot accept their cannabis money and why the growers who have pulled permits have not started opening their sites. The reasons were due to tax rates, requirements that conflicted with state permits and the conforming and conforming uses of the land to be used for cultivation. Randel said the ordinance would provide the change of uses that would allow the growers to ahead with their grows.

She also asked about assurances that the amended ordinances would still protect the health and safety of children in the city, particularly since the dispensary and microbusiness prohibitions would be lifted allowing the facilities to be located in other business parks and industrial zones in the city outside of zones permitted.

Randel said the dispensaries, under the amended ordinances, would allow the operation of dispensaries only by the permitted growers, somewhat restricting who could open a dispensary in their city.

Amended ordinance OK is needed

Utz and Mayor Pro Tem Andrew Kotyuk maintained at the beginning of the meeting that the suggested amendments to the local ordinances must be approved to improve the city’s revenue flow and take advantage of the new market.

Utz said it was his belief that the majority of people in the city wanted cannabis and also passed Measure AA taxing cannabis growers as a tool to help the city. He said on three separate occasions the city council voted 5-0 for cannabis, but “we were feeling around in the dark and produced really bad legislation.” He said the amended ordinance was a priority, noting that many cities with cannabis dispensaries are some of the most prosperous cities in the county.

He said while cannabis had absolutely no place in the hands of children, they were still getting it from the illegal cannabis growers flourishing in the city. He said the cannabis ordinances, if amended and put into place, would hopefully push the illegal dispensaries and black market growers out and help the city out with more revenue to afford better police and public safety protection for the residents.

He chided the recent state law which he said now allows cannabis delivery services from anywhere in the state to deliver to any city.

“They (the state Legislature) are taking local control away. We cannot stop deliveries – deliveries to your home, and your home are now legal regardless of what we say. We lost that fight because of the legislature. So remember, if we don’t control it now they’re going to do it to us later. Remember the governor’s slogan 0 whether you like it or not. Whether you’re ready or not it’s coming. Well, he won,” Utz said.

Councilman admits ownership

New Councilman Joel Lopez surprisingly admitted on the dais that he once was one of the illegal dispensaries owners in town who was cited three times, but said he thought, “I wanted to help others.” But he said while he is on the council, he will listen to the people who elected him before making any decision on the city cannabis ordinances.

He listened to several residents of Latino descent during the public comment portion of the hearing who spoke almost in tears of how marijuana has negatively affected their families and how their children are daily subjected to marijuana in their neighborhoods, their schools and businesses. He asked if there could be a continuance on the hearing, so he could find out more from the residents and their thoughts on the ordinance changes. Ledezma was quick to second the motion but changed his motion after finding out that even if the council approved the ordinance on first reading, it would still be under discussion at a second reading before any action was taken.

Ledezma, Utz, Ruiz and Kotyuk all complimented Lopez, noting they felt he does have the people of the city as his first concern.

When the hour reached about 11 p.m., the council was assured by the city attorney that the initial first reading of the ordinance would still allow for a second reading and more discussion. The council majority approved the first reading.

The amendments needed explanation

One of the key changes in the language of the ordinance was to change the wording of commercial marijuana cultivation to cannabis-oriented businesses. This change and others in terminology proposed in the city’s amendments are necessary since Jan. 16, when the California Office of Administrative Law officially approved permanent state regulations for “cannabis” businesses across the supply from cultivation to retail.

Before that vague temporary regulations were set down by the state, cities across the state attempted to write their ordinances to comply with Proposition 64, even though many of their councils objected to any and all marijuana cultivation, sales and use, medicinal or not.

San Jacinto council struggled with writing their own ordinances. In keeping with Proposition 64, they allowed some city control of local commercial cultivation, distribution, sales and dispensaries, but not the use of in-home limited growth and use of recreational marijuana.

California residents in 1996 approved Proposition 215 legalizing the use of medicinal cannabis, the Compassionate Use Act, but the regulations left to the local city and county governments.

In 2015, another change took place with three bills from the Legislature Assembly Bill 243, Assembly Bill 266 and Senate Bill 643 that collectively established a comprehensive state regulatory framework for the licensing and enforcement of cultivation, manufacturing, retail sales, transportation, storage, delivery and testing of medicinal cannabis in California. The regulatory scheme is known as the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act. It also established three cannabis licensing authorities; the Bureau of Cannabis Control, CalCannabis and Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branch.

Proposition 64 brings big changes

Proposition 64 came after that and was approved by a majority of voters. In 2017 the MCRSA was integrated with Proposition 64 to create the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act which readopted the regulations until the rulemaking process to create non-emergency regulations was completed. Those temporary regulations remained in effect allowing temporary licenses being issued by the bureau for retailers, distributors, testing laboratories, microbusinesses and event organizers until January this year when the permanent state regulations took effect.

In that time 10,000 cannabis operators were issued state licenses, making California the largest cannabis market in the country. Some cities thrived with the new market opening up while others, like San Jacinto worked to become competitive in the new market promising millions in new revenues.

Thus far, many of the late coming cities, while gaining new revenues in the first year, have seen them fall since. San Jacinto has seen little to date with the state regulations just now being clarified and amendments to the local ordinances have to be made to comply with the set state regulations.

Tony Ault can be reached by email at [email protected]

 

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