City limits cannabis manufacture to medical use

By John T. Miller on April 16, 2018

The Concord City Council established a Commercial Cannabis Overlay District that allows for the manufacture of medical cannabis, along with testing for both medical and recreational use.

Recreational pot remains unregulated, so its manufacture and sale are still illegal in the city.

As presented by principal planner Michael Cass, Ordinance 18-3 called for associated development standards and a licensing framework for cannabis manufacturing, testing laboratories and distribution. But a flurry of amendments watered down the plan at the April 10 meeting.

“We are starting slow. There are too many loose ends,” Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister told the Pioneer.

An overlay district is a regulatory tool that creates a special zoning district placed over an existing one. It identifies special provisions in addition to those in the underlying base zone.
The city identified three areas where cannabis businesses could be located: the business park area north of Highway 4, land east of Highway 242 and Solano Way adjacent to the airport and land around the Shary Circle business park near Costco.

The business parks include a 600-foot buffer zone around each area from sensitive uses, such as K-12 schools, large day-care centers or youth centers.

To qualify, prospective businesses will need land use approval from the Planning Division, a city cannabis license issued by the Police Department, a state cannabis license and a business license.

The local licenses will be subject to general conditions, including cannabis not being sold on the same premises as tobacco or alcohol, no on-site consumption, odor control measures, an approved safety plan, no signage and compliance with all state cannabis license requirements.

After Cass gave his report, residents spoke out 17-5 for approval of the proposed ordinance. One of the main points emphasized by those in favor was the value of regulating the industry, citing the dangers inherent in the current illegal black market. They also pointed to the clear directive in a city survey, showing that 62 percent of residents favored legalizing cannabis activities.

Those speaking against allowing testing, manufacturing and distributing of cannabis in the city expressed fears of increased crime and addictions. They also said the city was not being true to its motto of “Family First.”

Nearly two hours of discussion followed.

In response to a question from Hoffmeister about law enforcement concerns, police Chief Guy Swanger said: “Our staff has made numerous visits up and down the state and we found very few, if any, problems with safety.”

Hoffmeister and Councilwoman Carlyn Obringer both said they believe that residents who voted in favor of legalizing the use of cannabis did not necessarily know that it would mean dispensaries in their neighborhoods.

Before approving the ordinance, the council amended it to limit manufacturing to medical only and limit the number of manufacturing and testing laboratories to two businesses each. Each of the amendments passed 4-1, with Mayor Edi Birsan in opposition.

“Limiting cannabis manufacturers to medical only is useless, since there is no way the manufacturer knows what the product is going to be used for,” Birsan said.

Cass said allowing manufacturing only for medical use may prohibit potential businesses from locating in Concord. Pedro Garcia, an economic specialist with the city, cited statistics indicating that only 10 percent of revenue from sales is from medical use.

Councilman Ron Leone wanted to extend the boundary to 1,000 feet and include residential areas, but Cass said other barriers buffer residents from the business parks, including a high fence, Highway 4 and a canal. The motion failed 1-4.

The council also approved amendments that change insurance requirements to $2 million for both auto and general liability and eliminate the energy standard requirement.

The final ordinance passed 4-1, with Leone abstaining and Birsan opposed.

In response to the vote, one of the few remaining people in the audience hollered “Shame” – because of the council’s limitations.

“I don’t want our citizens having to go elsewhere to buy something that is legal,” Birsan said.

In a subsequent Facebook post, Birsan called the council’s attempt to say that 62 percent of residents had no idea what they voted for “totally bogus.”

“The poll showed that they favored overwhelmingly recreational dispensaries, especially where they are placed by the Police Chief and the Council,” he wrote.

“We’re putting our toe in the water and proceeding cautiously,” Hoffmeister told the Pioneer. “It’s kind of hard to unring the bell once you start.”

The council did not address cannabis cultivation and proposed land use for retail (both non-storefront and storefront) and microbusinesses. The board will address those later this year.

So, it remains to be seen if the city’s original goal of allowing cannabis businesses to locate here may just be a pipe dream.

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