Ukiah to lift 10-year ban on medical cannabis dispensaries

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The largest city in Mendocino County — part of the famed Emerald Triangle marijuana-growing region — has taken its first official step toward allowing medical cannabis dispensaries.

The Ukiah City Council gave initial approval this week to an ordinance that would lift a ban on dispensaries in place since 2007.

With one member absent, the council voted 4-0 Wednesday night to introduce the ordinance. It returns Feb. 1 for a final vote.

The ordinance faced little opposition from area residents, Councilwoman Maureen Mulheren said. She said the few opponents with whom she’d spoken have, over time and with the recent legalization of recreational marijuana, come to accept cannabis commerce as inevitable.

There’s “not really a lot of concern” anymore, Mulheren said.

The proposed law allows dispensaries to operate in commercial zones in the city as long as they are at least 250 feet from youth centers, parks and other dispensaries. State law already requires they be at least 600 feet from a school, city officials noted. The city-imposed distances may be altered on an individual basis by the Planning Commission if warranted.

The council had considered a request to increase the distances to 500 feet but decided it would unduly restrict the new businesses. The ordinance contains numerous requirements, including that operators and employees be at least 21 and undergo criminal background checks. Dispensaries also will be reviewed each year before their permits are renewed. If they generate problems, the permits can be canceled.

At the Wednesday meeting, the only two people who commented said they were mostly satisfied with the proposed law.

Chris Watt, a planning commissioner, said he would have preferred larger setbacks but feels the ordinance has sufficient incentives to keep most businesses in line.

A man, who identified himself only as Steely, said he prefers the 250-foot setback.

The council on Wednesday also approved a statement declaring that allowing dispensaries would create no negative environmental impacts.

Because one council member, Doug Crane, was absent Wednesday, the item will be voted on separately, rather than with other issues on the consent calendar when it returns Feb. 1. It will go into effect 30 days after final adoption.

You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 707-462-6473 or