San Luis Obispo appears to be on its way to allowing the county’s first recreational marijuana stores.
The City Council reviewed drafts of new commercial cannabis laws Tuesday, giving feedback and suggestions while making no formal decisions about adoption before an expected vote on May 1.
Council members said they were open to allowing up to three retail recreational cannabis stores — the number recommended by city staff members based on land-use and zoning considerations — though none suggested downtown storefronts.
But no local city jurisdiction nor the county government has allowed recreational retail cannabis (common in states like Oregon and Colorado), enabling those older than 21 to show proof of ID to purchase marijuana products.
Council members said they wanted policy that takes a relatively permissive approach, in line with voters’ 67 percent support of Proposition 64, but also to move forward with some caution, noting laws can be adjusted in coming years.
“I don’t want to overregulate,” said Councilman Dan Rivoire. “But I also would like to move forward thoughtfully and cautiously.”
What the council recommended
Council members also expressed interest in allowing:
▪ Commercial indoor cultivation of up to 70,000 square feet of total canopy citywide;
▪ Marijuana deliveries, including from operators within the city;
▪ Non-volatile manufacturing (avoiding flammable gases or vapors that could cause explosions), though Councilwoman Carlyn Christianson is open to exploring the idea of flammable manufacturing, weighing safety concerns if needed, to facilitate bulk weed production.
To establish public safety measures, the council favored measures that would limit certain activities. Those include:
▪ Establishing 600-foot buffers between cannabis businesses and schools and 200-foot buffers between cannabis operations and residences;
▪ Prohibiting outdoor cultivation, because of land-use and odor considerations in a fairly compact urban setting (The city does allow grows of up to six marijuana plants per household either outdoors or indoors for personal use under state law);
▪ Prohibiting marijuana consumption in public, onsite at cannabis businesses, or at events such as weddings and food pairings (Councilman Aaron Gomez expressed concerns about people using marijuana in public areas and then driving).
The city estimates marijuana revenues could bring as much as $3 million per year in taxes within a few years, though the council hasn’t yet addressed how it might tax products. That conversation will take place in April as part of a city finance discussion.
The City Council heard in public comment from about a dozen cannabis industry representatives and marijuana users who argued for permissive city policies.
“I am a medical patient myself and I find it extremely inconvenient having to rely on delivery services and rely on pictures of the product, as opposed to being able to actually see it,” said Trevor Howell. “So I wanted to be in favor of opening up storefronts and allowing them to be in SLO.”
The council also heard from a handful of community members and activists who warned of negative consequences.
“I am vehemently opposed to any cannabis industry in San Luis Obispo,” said San Luis Obispo cardiologist Armin Bendari. “I see really no upside. We talk about the drought right now. It has rained about an inch in the last six months and we’re talking and cultivating cannabis in our warehouses here.”
Bendari also expressed concerns about increased crime generated from an industry that will heavily rely on cash payments, and a lack of research because marijuana is a listed as a federally controlled substance and there’s no due federal funding to study it.
Activists from the group Prevention of Substance Abuse for Youth spoke in support of measures that keep cannabis away from children, saying that marijuana negatively affects the developing brain.
Council members support a city program to educate residents on the effects of marijuana, especially young people, though the funding considerations and details of that programming still need to be worked out.
Land use and hours of operation
Council members recommended requiring businesses to establish net zero energy systems before they set up shop, meaning the total amount of energy used by a building on an annual basis will be about the same as the renewable energy created on the site.
In reference to water use, Community Development Director Michael Codron said the city estimates cultivators would likely consume about the same level of water per year as four city laundromats — about 13 acre-feet per year; the laundromats collectively consume about 12 acre-feet.
Council members appeared ready to allow commercial cannabis business hours from around 9 a.m. until about 8 p.m. or 9 p.m., which would enable customers who work typical hours a chance to pick up products in the evening. No signage would be allowed to promote marijuana or display products in store windows.
Council members expressed some concerns about products with high concentrations of psychoactive ingredients in dabs, such as “shatter weed,” that contain extractions of potent cannabis ingredients.
They suggested that city staff conduct more research on how best to regulate those products, with some expressing interest in determining their benefits to medical patients who might need a more concentrated product versus any potential dangers. Mayor Heidi Harmon also said, “I’m not sure they’re as dangerous or problematic” as some say.
Christianson said that marijuana stores should be located in visible places with crossroads and “lots of eyes on them, which keeps them safer,” but not in downtown.
Based on the city’s zoning and mapping, Codron said he could envision retail cannabis stores located on mid-Higuera Street and Broad Street and in the city’s southern area, just as examples.
The council also recommended using a third-party consultant to vet applicants for business permitting.
The city staff’s draft regulations were drawn up based on extensive research, including a 14-page white paper and input from community groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, as well as community feedback from polls, forums and letters.
The new draft laws will be published after further public refinement and Planning Commission input at two March meetings.