Morro Bay will begin accepting permit applications in July 2018 for two medical marijuana dispensaries, the City Council decided Tuesday as it refined a proposed marijuana ordinance for final approval in two weeks.
The council on Tuesday heard a first reading of the ordinance, which will regulate the dispensaries and set rules for personal use and cultivation in the city. After tweaking a few details, the council unanimously voted to bring the ordinance back for final adoption at its Nov. 7 meeting.
Like other California cities, Morro Bay has until Jan. 1 to put local laws in place before the state starts issuing business licenses to marijuana providers as decided by voters with 2016’s Proposition 64, the Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act.
The vote comes following months of input from the public and recommendations from a city cannabis committee consisting of city administration, police and fire officials and headed by Councilwoman Marlys McPherson and Councilman Robert “Red” Davis.
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The council had previously settled on most issues they wanted to see in an ordinance, but several key factors were narrowed Tuesday, including details of the city’s permitting process for personal cultivation, height rules for outdoor plants, and dimensions of buffers zones around schools, parks and other places where children congregate.
Personal use and cultivation
Under the proposed ordinance, residents growing marijuana for personal use will be required to obtain a cultivation permit from the city for a yet-to-be-determined “nominal” fee beginning July 1, 2018. Should the ordinance pass, the city plans to waive fees from January to July.
Under state law, residents are able to possess up to six marijuana plants. Under Morro Bay’s ordinance, two of those plants may be grown outdoors, at least 10 feet away from the property line. On Tuesday, the council agreed not to impose a height limit for outdoor plants, but plants must be out of sight from public spaces.
Growing must also be done with a property owner’s consent and in a secured place that’s inaccessible to minors. Odor control may be required if a property draws complaints from other residents.
Originally requiring a to-scale property site plan for a grow permit, the council agreed Tuesday that a hand-drawn map from the applicant will suffice, saying they want to keep the program as unobtrusive as possible.
On the subject of public consumption, the council on Tuesday updated the city’s secondhand smoke regulations to prohibit marijuana smoking in public places, including in automobiles.
Though growing marijuana without a permit and smoking in public will be illegal under the ordinance, it remains unclear what penalties might be assessed. The current ordinance allows for the city to charge violators with infractions and even misdemeanors, which are punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Dispensaries and delivery services
The proposed rules prohibit recreational marijuana dispensaries and delivery services from operating within city limits. Two fixed-location medical marijuana dispensaries will be allowed, however, in central business, general commercial and light industrial zones, as long as the two businesses are at least 100 feet from each other.
The council on Tuesday agreed to prohibit marijuana businesses within 600 feet of schools, day cares and youth centers, but loosened buffer zones to 100 feet from parks and removed any limitations for churches, saying the buffers greatly limit the number of viable locations for dispensaries.
The city will begin accepting applications from medical marijuana dispensary operators on July 1, 2018. The permitting process includes vetting by Community Development Director Scot Graham, who will rank those that meet minimum requirements on a Merit List; a review by a cannabis permitting committee made up of city officials; and a final decision by the city manager.
The permit will be good for an initial term of up to 2 years pending review for renewal, followed by two-year terms thereafter.
Dispensaries will be prohibited from growing marijuana and from hiring on-site physicians to sell medical marijuana recommendations.
Medical marijuana delivery services will be required to hold a city-issued business license and proof of association with a lawful medical marijuana dispensary. They also will be subject to inspection by city officials.
Fees and finance
Regulatory and administrative costs related to marijuana rules will be self-funded through the yet-to-be-determined city fees, though city officials say they want to keep those fees for recreational growers as low as possible to encourage residents to sign up. City costs will be further offset by development agreements with the dispensaries.
City staff is currently researching a possible cannabis tax measure to put before city voters in the November 2018 election, unless the council opts for a special election beforehand. A report on the possible measure is due back to the City Council by summer 2018.
Prior to its tentative approval of the ordinance, the council heard from roughly a dozen people, mostly prospective dispensary operators, including some with existing businesses on the Central Coast. Among their chief concerns were the buffer zones around parks and churches — which the council changed — and the six-month wait to begin applying for a dispensary permit.