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Recreational marijuana dispensaries, grows met with caution by Atascadero officials

An inside look at a marijuana growing operation

A close-up look at Forbidden Farms' marijuana growing operation in Shelton and the processing facility on the Tacoma Tideflats in Washington. Owned by the Balduff brothers Garrett and Taylor, the premium producer even supplies cannabis connoisseur
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A close-up look at Forbidden Farms' marijuana growing operation in Shelton and the processing facility on the Tacoma Tideflats in Washington. Owned by the Balduff brothers Garrett and Taylor, the premium producer even supplies cannabis connoisseur

Atascadero residents likely won’t be allowed to buy marijuana from a local dispensary or start their own commercial grow operations anytime soon.

City officials Tuesday night continued to take a cautious approach to allowing commercial marijuana activities as they draft policies in response to Proposition 64, a statewide ballot measure that legalized recreational marijuana in California.

Planning Commission and City Council members at a joint meeting opted to hold off on permitting most business operations until more research and planning can be done.

“If we don’t do something now, it’s not now or never,” said Duane Anderson, Planning Commission chairman, during the discussion.

As cities throughout the state rush to regulate marijuana in the wake of the November vote, they face a tight timeline — California will begin licensing marijuana-related businesses in January.

For more information on Atascadero’s proposed marijuana policies, visit Atascadero.org and check out the Aug. 29 City Council agenda.

This is the second meeting city officials held to discuss regulations before they vote on them in September and October. Another discussion in April laid the groundwork for Tuesday’s recommendations.

Commissioners and council members must work within the constraints of Proposition 64, which grants communities authority to allow or prohibit commercial marijuana activities but gives residents more freedom to grow and consume the substance.

Cities can’t restrict marijuana possession, and residents must be allowed to grow up to six plants indoors. Officials can prohibit personal outdoor grows and can reasonably regulate indoor cultivation.

Grover Beach currently is the only city in San Luis Obispo County that will allow brick-and-mortar marijuana businesses. Residents in November approved a special citywide tax on marijuana products.

A conservative approach

Phil Dunsmore, Atascadero’s community development director, proposed treating recreational and medical marijuana in the same way to avoid enforcement hassles. This created a dilemma for officials who approve of medical marijuana but aren’t fans of residents using the drug for recreational purposes.

Medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996, and Atascadero currently allows residents to maintain personal grows for that purpose.

“I’m sort of in a conundrum,” said Jan Wolff, a planning commissioner.

“Sorry, you live in California,” Mayor Tom O’Malley responded jokingly.

Officials were in favor of indoor and outdoor grows with some restrictions — plants cultivated outside would have to be surrounded by a 6-foot wooden fence.

Indoor grows would be kept in a 120-square-foot area and wouldn’t be allowed in sleeping room areas to prevent residents from turning their homes into grow sites.

It’s already happening. Regulating is better than not regulating.

Councilwoman Roberta Fonzi on marijuana delivery services

Commercial grows, distribution centers and brick-and-mortar dispensaries remain off the table for now, although officials said they’d consider allowing marijuana testing facilities.

Commissioners and council members also agreed to consider allowing mobile dispensaries, which are currently prohibited in Atascadero.

“It’s already happening,” said Councilwoman Roberta Fonzi of marijuana deliveries. “Regulating is better than not regulating.”

Commissioners and council members also said they’d like to learn more about the process of adopting a marijuana tax similar to the one Grover Beach put in place.

The Planning Commission will take up a draft ordinance Sept. 19, and the City Council could consider it as early as Oct. 10.

Lindsey Holden: 805-781-7939, @lindseyholden27

Police demonstrate the Alere DDS2, a saliva swab test some authorities are using to determine marijuana impairment, in May at the Capitol in Sacramento.

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