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Survey shows some support for ­retail cannabis in Concord

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The majority of Concord residents who participated in a new city survey think retail cannabis businesses should be allowed in a variety of areas – including downtown – without restrictions on the number of storefronts.

Most preferred retails sites near the police station, in industrial areas, downtown and shopping centers. Of the 474 respondents, almost 53 percent don’t want the city to limit the number of businesses. Another 18 percent said there shouldn’t be any retail outlets.

When asked about non-storefront retail delivery facilities, most people thought industrial areas were best, as well as near the police station or in office buildings. More than 63 percent said the city should not limit the number of businesses, while 15 percent didn’t want any sites.

The city posted the online questions June 20-July 19 as part of ongoing research about how to regulate marijuana, which California voters legalized in 2016 under Prop. 64. Coleman Frick, an associate planner for Concord, said the city publicized the survey through the city website, social media platforms, local media outlets and a list of people who had asked to receive information on cannabis-related news.

“The city anticipated that the survey would generate interest based on the amount of attention past consideration of cannabis regulations has received,” Frick said, adding that the city didn’t target a specific number of results.

To take the survey, residents had to register at the Concord Community Town Hall website. Responses came from all age ranges, although 204 chose not to give their ages. All responses were anonymous.
Tax revenue vs. families

In 251 comments added to the survey, many residents said Concord is losing tax dollars to other cities that are already allowing retail storefronts.

“Concord should not play catch up. We should seize the opportunity to capitalize on the early days of recreational legalization,” said one respondent. Another said: “The city of Concord is missing out on additional income and jobs.”

Others cited crime and health concerns with comments like “By inviting the cannabis industry into our city, you are endangering us” and “Our city is trading off the health and safety of Concord residents for marijuana revenue.”

While many used Concord’s “families first” philosophy as an argument against retail sales, one resident noted that demographic includes “younger families who are aware of the economical benefits for taxing and regulating recreational use.

Questioning the questions

After Councilman Edi Birsan shared the survey results on his Facebook page, Concord resident Mike McDermott cited “major problems” with the survey. He said the input couldn’t be trusted because it’s likely that non-resident cannabis supporters responded.

However, Birsan said there were only 40 respondents from outside Concord. Frick told the Pioneer that the survey was not scientific.

McDermott also said the survey used the term dispensary, which he called a medical term. “So it would be fair to say respondents were thinking medicinal and not recreational when they answered,” he wrote. “Calling a recreational storefront a ‘dispensary’ is beyond dishonest.”

Birsan countered, saying the term dispensary was in common use.

Location, location, location

The survey also looked at microbusinesses, which could cultivate up to 10,000 sq. ft. of cannabis, distribute, manufacture and/or offer retail sales. Again, most (54 percent) did not think the city should regulate the number of licenses. But almost 20 percent didn’t want any microbusiness permits.

At 86 percent, respondents overwhelming said microbusinesses should be in industrial areas. But one cautioned: “Be careful that they aren’t pushed to the outskirts or more industrial parts of the city. That will have the opposite impact of the intended crime deterrent.”

Several said marijuana outlets should be regulated similar to liquor stores. “Treating cannabis the same as alcohol in Concord will hopefully remove a long-attached stigma that has resulted in decades of fear-mongering and misinformation.”

The survey also asked if Concord should expand the 600-foot buffer zone state law requires around “sensitive uses,” with 57 percent saying that zone was sufficient and 43 percent recommending 1,000 feet.

Continuing the process

On Aug. 13 (after the Pioneer deadline), the City Council planned to provide direction to staff about the possibility of increasing the number of cannabis licenses for manufacturing, distribution and testing laboratories, as well as possibly allowing adult-use (rather than medicinal-only) cannabis manufacturing and retail.

The next steps include stakeholder meetings this month and in September, then meetings before the Planning Commission in October and November and the City Council in December and January.

For more information, email Frick at cannabis@cityofconcord.org or visit cityofconcord.org/cannabis.

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