Atascadero residents may soon be able to purchase marijuana products from mobile dispensaries and grow plants outdoors for personal use.
The City Council on Tuesday night discussed allowing limited types of pot-based businesses and placing restrictions on personal grows. It opted to hold off on allowing commercial cultivation and retail sales within the city.
Atascadero is one of several cities in California that are drafting new rules on marijuana in response to the passage of Proposition 64, the statewide ballot initiative that legalized recreational use of cannabis.
“What it comes down to for us as a city — this is a zoning and land-use issue,” said Phil Dunsmore, the city’s community development director.
I don’t understand what the big deal about marijuana is.
Atascadero resident Barbara McGowan, who said she used medical marijuana as part of her treatment for breast cancer
The state will begin licensing recreational marijuana businesses starting on Jan. 1, 2018, and city officials want to have local regulations in place when sales become legal.
Residents already are allowed to possess and grow limited amounts of marijuana indoors for personal use under Proposition 64.
Californians who have doctors’ prescriptions for medical marijuana have had access to the drug since 1996, when the Compassionate Use Act was passed. However, brick-and-mortar dispensaries and services that offer mobile delivery of medical marijuana are illegal in Atascadero.
The city is reassessing what types of marijuana businesses to allow and how much cultivation to permit. To get residents’ feedback, the city held three open houses and sent out online surveys.
Of the approximately 75 people who attended the open houses and 550 people who replied to the online survey, almost three-quarters said they would be comfortable with personal outdoor and commercial cultivation; testing and manufacturing facilities; and retail sales and delivery services, according to a staff report.
Some who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting said they were in favor of looser restrictions, while others said they’re strongly against marijuana use.
Jim Shannon said he voted against Proposition 64 and doesn’t want to see marijuana-related businesses come to town. “It’s not worth the risk we’re going to take,” he said.
“This is important because youth and young people are influenced by this stuff,” Shannon said.
A few speakers pointed to the city’s support of alcohol-centric events, such as Brew at the Zoo, and asked why marijuana would be treated differently as a substance.
Barbara McGowan said she’s a breast cancer survivor who used medical marijuana as part of her treatment. She encouraged council members to allow mobile deliveries, so those who need marijuana can purchase it privately.
“I don’t understand what the big deal about marijuana is,” she said.
Council OK with outdoor cultivation
After a lengthy discussion, council members told staff they would be comfortable with allowing personal grows outdoors, as long as they’re screened from street view.
Council members saw outdoor grows as safer than those indoors, where electricity use and space could be problematic. They also directed staff to look into allowing mobile dispensaries as well as marijuana testing and manufacturing facilities.
Councilman Charles Bourbeau said he would be in favor of allowing commercial marijuana sales and cultivation within the city, as long as they are safely regulated. He said he’d like to see such retailers treated similarly to other businesses that bring in tax dollars.
“Let’s face it — people in our city are going to use this,” Bourbeau said.
Councilwoman Heather Moreno and Councilman Brian Sturtevant favored more conservative policies on commercial cultivation and sales, at least initially. Councilwoman Roberta Fonzi was absent from the meeting.
Mayor Tom O’Malley emphasized that the council’s direction does not constitute a permanent decision. He said he sees marijuana legalization as an evolving process similar to the end of the federal prohibition on alcohol in the 1930s.
“I look at it as a bit of a transition,” O’Malley said. “Let’s see where it goes.”
City planning staff will bring recommendations back to the council before developing regulations. An ordinance is expected to come before the city Planning Commission in July or August and before the City Council in September or October.