Concord OKs retail pot sales in downtown area

Concord OKs retail pot sales in downtown area

Concord OKs retail pot sales in downtown areaAfter more than three years of review, the Concord City Council “made some soup” on April 28 and approved cannabis regulations that include retail storefronts in the downtown area.

The council majority of Mayor Tim McGallian and Councilmen Dominic Aliano and Edi Birsan agreed to the ordinance, with Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister and Carlyn Obringer dissenting.

After several hours of fine-tuning discussions during the virtual meeting, Birsan was eager to avoid further delays once he saw the votes were in hand. “The priority is to get it done tonight,” said Birsan, who made a reference to having what it needs to make soup earlier in the evening.

The regulations allow for several new cannabis license types, including:

  • Three storefront and three non-storefront retail sites.
  • Four microbusinesses – with up to two being storefront retail.

In addition, the city increased the maximum number of licenses allowed for some currently permitted license types, including:

  • Manufacturing, from two to up to five.
  • Testing labs, from two to no limit.

The revisions allow both medicinal and adult cannabis uses.

The ordinance will have a second reading on May 26 and become effective on June 25. Also at the May 26 meeting, the council will discuss the Request for Proposal (RFP) process – including how to obtain community benefits from new cannabis businesses.

Dispute over downtown sites

Although the council approved up to three retail storefronts in two downtown districts, all other new businesses need to be in the city’s Cannabis Overlay District in north Concord.

Senior planner Coleman Frick said the city will consider downtown retail sites through a competitive bid process. “They could only be allowed in the West Concord Mixed Use (WMX) or Downtown Mixed Use (DMX) districts once they are selected through the RFP,” he said.

Frick described the DMX as including some of the downtown and going west toward Highway 242. He said the WMX is west of 242, going to Interstate 680.

He said retail cannabis sites are banned in the Downtown Pedestrian District that borders Todos Santos Plaza and the city’s historic core. “No cannabis business can front the plaza,” he noted.

But that exception wasn’t enough to convince Hoffmeister. “Absolutely not,” she declared. “I will not support anything in the DMX or WMX. I don’t care if it’s three blocks or two blocks off our immediate area of Todos Santos Plaza. She added, “I would prefer it out in the industrial park or other areas but nowhere in our near our downtown.”

Greg Kremenliev, Contra Costa co-chair of the marijuana advocacy group NORML, applauded Concord’s new rules. In a written public comment, he called it “ a milestone for our city.”

Lowering the buffer zone

At previous meetings, the council was leaning toward a 600-foot buffer from “sensitive uses” such as public or private schools, youth community centers and child day-care facilities. However, on Tuesday they voted to reduce that to 250 feet.

Aliano said the 600-foot restriction “takes away many locations in Park & Shop, which I think would be good locations.”

Obringer said that 11th-hour alteration to the buffer led her to vote against the ordinance. “I appreciate all the compromise in the other areas, but I’m not going to be able to support the overall ordinance because of that change,” she said.

Hoffmeister said the buffer change also influenced her no vote.

Frick noted that the move will not alter the boundaries of the Cannabis Overlay District.

No decision on vaping

Despite an earlier request by council members to consider a vaping ban, the staff report recommended against it.

“The legal cannabis business is highly regulated,” Frick said. “A lot of the issues that existed with the illnesses were actually related to the black market or synthetic cannabis that didn’t go through that state regulatory process.

“Also, a ban wouldn’t affect CBD, tobacco or other vaping,” he added.

Concord resident Mike McDermott called the staff arguments “weak and transparent.” He asked the council to institute restrictions.

“Please consider at least a temporary moratorium on sales of smoking products until COVID-19 is not considered a serious health risk,” he wrote in a submitted comment.

All the council members but Birsan said they were interested in talking about a vaping ban at a future meeting.

“I think it’s better to do as a comprehensive review of the vaping devices and including it all together, rather than carve it out now and then have to come back and do it all over again in tobacco,” Hoffmeister said.

McGallian agreed that vaping was a stand-alone issue that many agencies will be considering. “I think the entire industry has a pretty good idea this is coming,” he said. “At both the state and federal levels, this was something that was on the radar to be discussed.”

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