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Morro Bay could get two medical marijuana dispensaries

Morro Bay will consider a draft marijuana ordinance in October that currently includes a ban on recreational marijuana services, but allows for up to two medicinal marijuana dispensaries. Pictured here are buds from a marijuana plant at Megan's Organic Market in Los Osos.
Morro Bay will consider a draft marijuana ordinance in October that currently includes a ban on recreational marijuana services, but allows for up to two medicinal marijuana dispensaries. Pictured here are buds from a marijuana plant at Megan's Organic Market in Los Osos. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Medical marijuana users in Morro Bay soon may have two locations to buy pot in town, but the city was not so accommodating for those who want to get high just for fun.

Under the gun to have local rules on the books before the state begins issuing marijuana business licenses in January, the City Council narrowed down a set of proposed regulations Tuesday, including allowing two medical dispensaries to open shop.

But adult residents hoping for local avenues to purchase recreational marijuana — legalized in November with voter-backed Proposition 64 — may be disappointed, as a slim council majority said they only support allowing medicinal marijuana providers in the city.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the council weighed in on recommendations made by a subcommittee consisting of Councilwoman Marlys McPherson and Councilman Robert “Red” Davis, who conferred with city public safety and planning staff and received input through a series of public workshops.

The council tweaked those recommendations and directed city staff to create a draft ordinance for a first read-through on Oct. 3, when the council can again modify the regulations and discuss taxation and possible penalties for non-compliance. They hope to have an ordinance in place by Jan. 1, 2018, when the state will begin issuing licenses under the new state law.

Based on the council’s preferences Tuesday, the upcoming draft ordinance will contain the following:

▪ No public use: Current law prohibits smoking marijuana or cigarettes in public, except in designated places or other rare exceptions. The council directed staff to tighten up that language, and include “vaping” among the rules.

▪ Personal cultivation: Though the subcommittee originally recommended banning outdoor cultivation, McPherson said she changed her mind after listening to public feedback and said she would support allowing the grows with certain restrictions, such as keeping them out of view. Others agreed and suggested a cap of two plants outdoors (Prop. 64 allows for up to six plants total per person). The council members agreed that they wanted to see rules for a low-hassle, one-time inspection process to make sure indoor grows are in compliance with city code, as well as a possible penalty schedule for violations.

▪ Two medicinal dispensaries: The council agreed with the subcommittee recommendation to allow as many as two medical marijuana dispensaries, in commercial and light industrial zones. Those businesses would be subject to regulations for odor control, security and other requirements.

▪ No recreational dispensaries: Despite the subcommittee recommendation to ban dispensaries selling recreational pot, Councilmen Davis and Matt Makowetski proposed allowing recreational businesses to apply to be one of the two dispensaries ultimately allowed in the city. They argued the city would benefit economically from being one of the few with a recreational storefront in the county and noted that Prop. 64 passed in Morro Bay with 62 percent of the vote.

“I’d like to represent the result of that vote,” Davis said. “If you have two (dispensaries) side by side. ... I don’t see the difference.”

However, the council majority said they wouldn’t support recreational dispensaries because the federal government still considers marijuana a Schedule I narcotic (on par with heroin) and because a past federal raid on a Morro Bay dispensary in 2007 “wasn’t a great experience for the city,” said Mayor Jamie Irons.

“I don’t think the city wants to be a mecca for closed-door (recreational dispensaries),” Councilman John Headding said.

The draft ordinance will include language to ban recreational dispensaries.

The council also addressed other issues involving the legalization of marijuana:

▪ No commercial cultivation: The council agreed with the subcommittee recommendation to ban all commercial marijuana cultivation.

▪ Manufacturing and testing: Though it initially opposed to facilities that produce and test cannabis products, the council majority said they now support such operations, which they said would be dictated by the market. They directed staff to include permitting for non-volatile manufacturing and testing operations in the upcoming draft ordinance.

▪ Delivery services. While the council agreed that medicinal marijuana delivery services should be allowed with all proper licensing, permitting and an association with a legitimate medicinal dispensary, the council majority directed staff to prohibit recreational marijuana delivery services in the city. Davis and Makowetski again voiced support for those, arguing that they will likely be operating in the city anyway without a city permit.

Each area of the draft will again be up for discussion and modification in October and the public will again have a chance to give input at a future workshop before a final ordinance is adopted.

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