Council continues to mull cannabis rules

Council continues to mull cannabis rules

Delivery business is likely next step

Members of the Concord City Council and Planning Commission appear ready to move forward with non-storefront delivery businesses for medicinal and adult cannabis use.

But at an April 2 joint meeting, most officials tread lightly in regard to retail storefronts – leaning toward medicinal sales only. However, trends in state laws may make that plan irrelevant.

The nine officials all agreed that any sales-related cannabis business would need to form a Development Agreement with the city. According to principal city planner Michael Cass, the agreements would focus on a community benefit payment – possibly for abuse prevention programs. The city would rely on those funds until a cannabis tax could be implemented.

City staff also asked for feedback on cannabis microbusinesses, the approval process, distance buffers and preferred locations. The timeline calls for online engagement and a community workshop this summer, with the City Council approving new regulations in late 2019 or early 2020.

Catching up to state law

Several people noted that outside businesses are already delivering medicinal and adult use cannabis to Concord residents under state law – and the sales tax is going elsewhere.

“The state has taken it out of your hands,” said Matt Light of Firefly, a cannabis operation. “That is happening, whether you like it or not. You might as well license them.”

While most of the officials were willing to consider delivery businesses that included adult use, many drew the line at retail storefront sales for adult use.

Planning Chair Raymond Barbour said he supported medical marijuana, including a retail store. “But I can’t get over that hump for a recreational storefront,” he said.

“Only a few communities have ventured into adult sales,” said Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister. “We don’t need to be the leader on this one.”

Many audience members urged the city not to approve retail stores for adult use. “Recreational storefronts would introduce many people to a drug with negative side effects,” said 36-year resident Mike McDermott, who at the same time advocated for medicinal outlets.

North Concord resident Hope Johnson said she had “no problem” with retail cannabis but asked the city to place stores in higher traffic areas, which she said are safer. Johnson also said that any funds the city collects should help residents near where the businesses are located.

Blurred distinctions

According to Cass, the state is eliminating many of the differences between medicinal and adult use of cannabis. “At this point, they are still specifying for certain licenses, medicinal vs. adult use,” he said. “But they are starting to go the direction where the uses and requirements are very similar.”

Cass said it would be “incredibly challenging and time-consuming” for Concord to enforce medicinal-only use if the state continues to limit distinctions. “The best way would be through labeling and packaging requirements, which could specify how the product could be used,” he said.

Planning Commissioner Mark Weinmann Councilman Edi Birsan were in favor of retail sales for adult use, with Weinmann advocating a trial basis.

“With the whole adult vs. medicinal use, the lines are gonna get more blurred,” Weinmann said. “We really shouldn’t limit it to medicinal. We’re tying our hands.”

Agreeing that the state is taking away most distinctions, Councilman Dominic Aliano said he supports discussions on all types of cannabis businesses.

“At this point, I want to protect the youth. And I think I have a better chance of doing that …. by having control of this industry in the city,” he said.

Mayor Carlyn Obringer said she wants a pilot medicinal storefront, which she said could also be “a holistic community center.” Councilman Tim McGallian said he wants to “continue to explore what’s going on with adult use.” He asked staff to look into whether the city could ban cannabis products that are smoked or vaped.

More fine-tuning

Most of the officials said they didn’t want to extend buffer zones beyond the state-mandated 600 feet for things like schools and day-care centers. But they suggested adding sensitive uses such as parks and drug treatment centers.

As to the permit process, the majority of planning commissioners supported a first-come, first-serve method. However, the council preferred a Request for Proposal (RFP) system. “This helps us vet out companies that will be successful at the end of the day,” Hoffmeister said.

Several council members discussed locations for retail stores, with McGallian noting “a few places up and down Clayton Road” and Aliano saying he didn’t want any cannabis businesses in the Monument.

Birsan argued that any limits on locations were “bogus,” noting that 4,000 people were recently drinking at a beer fest near the playground in Todos Santos Plaza.

“Let’s just use rational choices on where we put this stuff,” Birsan said. “We want to kill the black market – the best way is to make it retail.”

Officials didn’t fully explore the topic of microbusiness at the meeting, but Cass told the Pioneer that staff would continue to draft regulations. Under state law, a microbusiness can cultivate less than 10,000 sq. ft. of cannabis and be a licensed distributor, manufacturer and/or retailer (three of the four).

As part of this ongoing city process, the council has developed a commercial cannabis overlay district and approved permits for two medicinal cannabis manufacturing businesses, set to open this spring. Meanwhile, the city is reviewing an application for a testing lab.