Petaluma cannabis regulations taking shape

Petaluma cannabis regulations taking shape

After two years and numerous public meetings held to hone the details of the city’s medical marijuana rules, Petaluma is gearing up for what appears to be a similar process to develop its stance on recreational pot.

Elected officials are calling for a measured approach to charting the city’s regulatory response to the passage of Proposition 64, which made it legal under state law for people 21 and older to possess, grow and consume a limited amount of recreational marijuana. The measure also paves the way for a state licensing system for recreational cannabis-related businesses, but gives local governments the power to ban those activities, as well as outdoor cultivation, within their jurisdictions.

While Petaluma has historically banned commercial cannabis activities based within its borders, several elected officials said they hoped for significant public input on the issue in the year before the state’s new licensing scheme goes into effect.

“We’ll have an appropriate time to have this all weighed and considered, and to have feedback from the community,” said Petaluma Mayor David Glass.

The possibility of an urgency ordinance that would have temporarily banned recreational marijuana businesses in Petaluma was dropped from the council’s last agenda on Dec. 5. The city council had declined to pass such a moratorium a day before the November election, but set aside time for a possible reconsideration of the ban one month later.

When presented last month, the moratorium was described as a sweeping option of abundant caution as the city came to grips with the nuances of the new law. Yet several council members said that they were concerned with appearing to supersede the will of voters, with some reasoning that the year before state licensing kicked off provided breathing room before commercial marijuana businesses could potentially go forward within city limits.

City Attorney Eric Danly said his office is preparing for future public hearings to discuss the nuances of Prop. 64’s passage for Petaluma.

“The direction that we’re focused on from the council is — they want to have a more detailed discussion around Prop. 64, what it does and how it affects the city’s medical marijuana regulations and what their choices are in terms of preserving some of the policy they’ve set regarding medical marijuana. Or, maybe, they want to pursue different policy following the passage of Prop. 64,” he said.

Marijuana use remains illegal under federal law, which Mayor Glass said has always been a significant factor in the city’s deliberations around marijuana and represented a new layer of uncertainty under the forthcoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump.

The city passed rules regarding medical marijuana in January 2016, which allowed for limited indoor or outdoor cultivation for personal use by card-carrying patients or their caregivers. The passage of California’s Proposition 2015 in 1996 legalized medical marijuana under state law, though the city council voted to ban brick-and-mortar medical marijuana dispensaries in 2007.

Medical marijuana patients in Petaluma must drive between 10 and 20 minutes to reach the nearest dispensary, said Linda Stokely, a local resident and medical marijuana patient who has closely tracked the evolving regulations for the city, county and state. She called on Petaluma to allow dispensaries within city limits, reasoning that the results of Prop. 64 reflected a receptiveness among Californians toward marijuana-related business. 

Prop. 64 passed with 57.1 percent of the vote, and 59.1 percent of the vote in Sonoma County as a whole.

“The city council’s job is to implement the will of the voters, not to exercise their own personal values. The majority of voters chose legalization. Accepting and embracing that decision will propel Petaluma forward,” she said. 

Long a proponent of allowing dispensaries in some areas of Petaluma, Councilman Gabe Kearney said the businesses could be a boost to the city’s coffers. He argued the experience of other cities showed that the presence of dispensaries was not correlated with teenage marijuana consumption, and said the municipal windfall from dispensaries, manufacturers of cannabis-based products and others could help allow Petaluma to boost the ranks of its public safety workers.

“I think we need to be looking at every revenue source that we can in order to make ourselves whole again in staffing and public safety,” he said. The Petaluma Police Department lost several officer positions as the city reeled from the recent recession, including staff based at the city’s two high schools.

Public hearings before the passage of Petaluma’s medical marijuana ordinance drew significant interest, yet the councilman noted that some of those who attended were not residents of Petaluma. He said he hoped for more local engagement as the city considered its response to Prop. 64.

“I think it’s important for people in the community, as we discuss this, that they come forward and make their voices heard,” he said.

Petaluma’s medical marijuana ordinance allows qualified patients to have three mature plants outdoors, and sets limits like maximum square footage of growing space and electricity usage for indoor grows. Prop. 64, or the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, allows recreational users to cultivate six mature plants.

Reconciling those differences and others between Petaluma’s medical marijuana policies and those of the act will be among the goals over the next few months, Danly, the city attorney, said.

Sonoma County officials are also grappling with the way to adjust their land use and other policies regarding commercial marijuana activities, a process that began before the passage of Prop. 64 and in response to a trio of state bills to regulate those businesses. The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted to pass sweeping rules over the operations of medical marijuana businesses in unincorporated commercial and industrial areas, but banned backyard commercial grows.

The county rules only apply to medical marijuana, but lay the groundwork for future regulations for recreational marijuana businesses.

Having recounted the fragrant nuisance of a large backyard marijuana grow in her neighborhood, Councilwoman Kathy Miller said she was supportive of a city policy on recreational marijuana that took quality-of-life issues into account. Yet she said she had yet to make up her mind on commercial activities, and was supportive of the process to come.

She noted that as Petaluma is considering its policies on recreational marijuana, so is the area right outside city limits.

“I’m looking forward to having a robust discussion about it, and listening to public input on it, and public safety input on it, and what the economic benefits would be to allowing dispensaries and things like that,” she said. “Obviously, what we don’t want to happen is a bunch of dispensaries setting up in the county right outside of Petaluma, because then we are losing the sales tax revenue.” 

(Contact Eric Gneckow at eric.gneckow@arguscourier.com.)

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