Santa Ana City Council Delays Action On Commercial Cannabis Ordinance Due To Potential Problems

The Santa Ana City Council met on Tuesday night for another four-hour doozy of a meeting. The council was supposed to take action on three cannabis items: Ordinance Amendment No. 2017-03 to create chapter 40 in the city’s municipal code to regulate commercial, i.e. recreational cannabis; an “in-lieu fee agreement,” or added tax, to mitigate any unforeseen, unwanted or negative impacts the new ordinance imposes on the city; and the merit-based criteria applicants need to meet in order to get a commercial cannabis business license. But that didn’t happen. Instead, the council adjourned that part of the meeting to Thursday (today!) at 1:30 pm because they’ve discovered some significant issues with the proposed ordinance that need special attention, thought and analysis.

Mayor Pulido and councilman Vincent Sarmiento recused themselves from the discussion. Raul Godinez, the city manager, explained that he wanted these items to be adjourned due to the feedback he’s received regarding the merit criteria and thought it would be best if the council made the decision on Thursday, otherwise at the second meeting of the month on November 21. “I would like to bring a revised proposal [of the criteria] based on the feedback I’ve received,” he said. “I’d like to give the council an opportunity to evaluate and also comment on it.”

The council realizes that action must be taken long before Nov. 21 so applicants have adequate time to apply (not just to the city, but to the state, too) and also so the city has time to sift through the applications and decide who gets a license. But the decision to move forward with a commercial cannabis (recreational) ordinance has felt rushed from the time it became public. And Mayor Pro Tem Michelle Martinez, who wasn’t present for the first reading of the ordinance on Oct. 17,  lit up the council highlighting some major pitfalls with ordinance.

“This is a big policy decision and change, and I’ve been trying to wrap myself around this,” she said. “I did my own research and looked at Sacramento, Los Angeles and other places just trying to figure out how we can make the best decision for the city. But what I found in our case is that there were no options on different ways to do this. There were no findings or analysis, and this is a major land-use decision as it pertains to CEQA (the California Environmental Quality Act) on the issues of cultivation. There’s nothing documented that says we may have to go through an environmental process regarding cultivation, and I have major issues with that.”

Is commercial cannabis cultivation in line with Santa Ana’s climate action plan? (Photo by Mary Carreon)

Martinez went on to ask whether the part of the ordinance that permits commercial cultivation is consistent with the city’s General Plan; Santa Ana’s climate action plan, as greenhouse gas omissions and CO2 are results of cultivation; and the water conservation plan–all of which are not addressed in the ordinance. She also explained that she has major concerns with the issue of co-location, or allowing the Measure BB dispensaries to also open a part of their shops to adult-use sales. Moreover, Martinez pointed out that there were some major problems with Measure BB, which need to be avoided this time around because it not only costs the city money– it costs the applicants tons of money, too.

“If the intent of all of this is to provide the 20, or current 18 applicants that currently have medical marijuana licenses first action to adult-use, then let’s just say that and let’s not play games here,” said Martinez. “But let us look at what can possibly happen if we’re not being honest– it doesn’t give an opportunity to those professionals who’ve been in this business elsewhere that want to be here and ultimately generate more revenue for us. But unfortunately we’re here at the last minute do this.”

The council agreed that taking action on Tuesday would be a mistake, as there’s a lot that still needs to be sussed out. The council is expected to take action on the ordinance today, but considering all that’s missing in the new canna-regs, it seems possible that they may need even more time. The proposed regulations would allow 23 adult use dispensaries on top on the 20 already existing medical cannabis stores, 20 indoor cultivation businesses, 20 non-volatile manufacturing businesses, five distribution businesses and an unlimited number of testing facilities in Santa Ana.

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