This Tuesday, San Luis Obispo city officials began discussing how to implement marijuana regulations following Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act.
City zoning regulations do not expressly permit cannabis or cannabis-related uses. Since marijuana remains illegal under federal law, city business licensees cannot allow the sale of cannabis.
The council voted to temporarily “maintain the status quo,” meaning no retailing, commercial cultivation or delivery of marijuana. Smoking marijuana and tobacco products in public is also banned under city law. With the state scheduled to begin issuing licenses Jan. 1, 2018, the council wanted to make sure businesses were not established before they had clear legislation in place.
“The ordinance buys the city time,” San Luis Obispo community development director Michael Cordon said. “Getting it right for our community before the state issues licenses is important to avoid adverse community impacts.”
Complying with state law, a person may grow up to six plants per residence in San Luis Obispo, including apartments. Landlords, however, are permitted to ban the cultivation of marijuana on their properties in lease agreements.
The council also voted to pursue a collaborative public engagement process to ensure the community’s needs are met.
Video by Connor McCarthy
Mayor Heidi Harmon raised concerns about what ordinances other cities in San Luis Obispo County will enact. City attorney Christine Dietrick said they are all in varying stages of implementing Prop 64.
“If we voted to not have dispensaries, but all the surrounding cities do, are we going to have the issue of people driving over the grade?” Harmon said.
Councilwoman Carlyn Christianson liked the idea of establishing a maximum number of retail businesses that could sell marijuana, but was concerned that cultivation could drain the region’s water and limited real estate.
“I would like to see commercial agriculture take place outside our city limits,” Christianson said. “Our land is needed for city activities, which means things like housing for our workers and not necessarily crops.”
Councilman Aaron Gomez did not like the idea that delivery services are allowed to drive on San Luis Obispo roads, but not deliver to residences. For him, the rules need to be more consistent and fair to resident and delivers.
“I don’t think we need to wait a year-and-a-half to address this,” Gomez said. “This is something we should take a look at sooner.”
The council also expressed concerns about setting taxes on marijuana too high. Assistant city manager Derek Johnson cited studies showing that going past a 30 percent collective tax drives sales back into the black market.
“We need to have fees that reflect what it takes us to regulate,” Councilwoman Andy Pease said.
California has set a 15 percent tax on cannabis, which can be raised locally.
Computer science senior Nico Pitchon owns his own marijuana delivery service and expressed his concerns to the council about a temporary ban.
“Although I think they have the right direction in mind, right now I would be breaking [city] law if I were to deliver in San Luis Obispo,” Pitchon said. “The council members seem to take a ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy and I hope the police will respect that.”
Agriculture business senior Gerick Latham said there is a false perception of how marijuana adversely affects students and sees a potential entrepreneurial opportunity.
“I am strongly advocating for growing [marijuana] because there is a huge emerging market for me,” Latham said. “A lot of crops inside California are saturated and growing marijuana would give me an edge [in the industry].”
About 30 community members attended the meeting, many of whom were current Cal Poly students.
When asked about enforcing the new laws, police chief Deanna Cantrell said they are examining problems cities similar to San Luis Obispo experienced when marijuana was legalized.
“We are looking at Fort Collins and Boulder, where there is a pretty close student-population ratio,” Cantrell said. “We are interested in all the impacts that legalization of marijuana had on their cities.”
The council plans on drafting new ordinances relating to marijuana by next summer.