Cannabis ordinance proceeds despite splitting Council

MARTINEZ, Calif. – A divided Martinez City Council introduced a commercial cannabis ordinance Wednesday and urged its counsel to find a way to let Firefly, the only company with an active application, keep its place in line.

If approved on second reading at a future meeting, the ordinance would allow two retail or dispensary operations; two delivery licenses associated with the retail cannabis stores, one manufacturing business, one distributor and one testing laboratory.

The Council also accepted the Planning Commission’s recommendation to add one non-storefront retail business that would sell and deliver cannabis or cannabis products to customers from a place not open to the public but instead would be sales consummated by delivery.

City Attorney Jeff Walters told the Council that California Bureau of Cannabis Control appears to have decided that outside distributors can operate in cities, so long as they have authorization from the local police department.

That appears to conflict with Proposition 64’s provisions that allowed local governments to have a say in what type of cannabis businesses could operate in within their limits, he said.

In addition, it meant outside businesses would be competing with local companies for customers, he said.

That worried Councilmember Mark Ross, who initially said, “I’m not sure what you’re suggesting.” Walters said there could be litigation on the matter in the future.

Regarding Firefly, Walters said that the Council was poised to eliminate the original ordinance provisions under which the company applied to open a medicinal marijuana dispensary, and expressed concern about giving Firefly preferential treatment.

The company’s application has been on hold awaiting adoption of the ordinance while the city wrestled with defining a “youth center,” since the proposed ordinance incorporates the state’s 600-foot buffer between marijuana companies and places defined as “sensitive receptors.

Other sensitive receptors would be schools with classes from kindergarten to 12th grade and children day care centers.

Firefly wants to open its dispensary in the same building complex at 4808 Sunrise Drive where Mike Neal Jr. operates his Power Endurance gym. The two businesses would be separated by only a wall.

Neal considers the gym a youth center, since more than half of his clients are minors, and the state calls youth centers places that primarily cater to the young.

However, state officials deliberately left the definition vague, saying that cities need to define the term for themselves, Mayor Rob Schroder explained.

The Planning Commission recommended Martinez define “youth center” as a place that caters exclusively to minors, but by that definition, the Boys and Girls Club and others might not qualify should they have activities, such as fundraisers, that include adults, Councilmember Debbie McKillop said.

While Ross worried that a mere wall separated children using the gym from a drug youth are being discouraged from trying, others agreed with Firefly’s principals that the company should be given consideration for having been working with city staff on its application for some time.

Public speakers likewise were split.

One speaker among those opposed to allowing cannabis businesses described The Lancet Psychiatry’s published study released Tuesday.

That study warned of higher risk of psychosis among those who frequently use cannabis, especially strains with higher percent of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, that causes psychoactive effects.

Some ordinance supporters said those opposed were calling up images similar to the fears raised by the old movie, “Reefer Madness.” Others described how medicinal marijuana had helped them or relatives cope with such varied illnesses as cancer and post-traumatic stress syndrome.

“One thing most of us realize is cannabis has been in Martinez for decades,” Schroder said. “I don’t want to delay the implementation of the ordinance.”

“I like the ordinance,” said Vice Mayor Noralea Gipner, who previously said she was a card holder and who reminded the panel a majority of Martinez voters approved Proposition 64 that legalized the drug in California.

She said she’s had conversations with residents, explaining that the Council was not dragging its feet and describing her research that indicated legal marijuana had not caused increased crime in Oregon and Washington.

“It’s about time,” said Councilmember Lara DeLaney, who said she’s been trying to get some form of the ordinance passed for 10 years. “This is the will of the voters.”

McKillop had mixed feelings, saying she favored some of the ordinance but didn’t want businesses in the neighborhood commercial areas. While the ordinance would not allow cannabis businesses on Main and Ferry streets, she wanted to expand that area to include more of the downtown shopping district. She also worried about the ordinance’s definition of “youth center.”

Councilmember Mark Ross, who said he has used CBD oil in preparation for running competition, said the ordinance would allow “incompatible tenants” to be side by side in the Sunrise Drive building. He expressed hope the situation, which he called a tenant-landlord dispute, could be resolved.

He said he has visited the gym, and saw youth exercising there. If Firefly opened next door, the two businesses would be separated by a half-inch of sheet rock, he said.

When Christina Ratcliffe, director of Community and Economic Development, reminded the Council that the ordinance would be for the entire city, not just Sunrise Drive, Ross joined McKillop in objecting to the way “youth center” was defined.

McKillop alone voted no to repealing the previous city ordinances regarding commercial marijuana, and Ross joined her in voting no against introducing the new ordinance. Schroder, Gipner and DeLaney voted in favor of both motions.

The Council accepted the city’s 2018 annual report on the implementation of the General Plan and Housing Element, which will be submitted to the California Department of Housing and Community Development and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission/Association of Bay Area Governments so Martinez remains eligible to receive its One Bay Area Grant.

It also agreed with City Treasurer Carolyn Robinson’s recommendation to let members of the Measure D Oversight Committee serve up to eight years instead of just four. That committee monitors spending of the city half-cent sales tax that is dedicated to road repair.

Appointments were made to committees overseeing the Measure H parks bond and Measure X general sales tax revenue spending.

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