Planning Commission weighs in on commercial cannabis ordinance

MARTINEZ, Calif. – In a workshop devoted to making suggestions for Martinez’s commercial cannabis ordinance, the Planning Commission focused Thursday on getting one phrase defined – “youth center.”

Frustrated by the vague way California defined the term in its own cannabis law, the Planning Commission equally has been upset that the definition has delayed a decision whether Firefly can open its medicinal marijuana dispensary in a multi-tenant building at 4808 Sunrise Drive.

In the same building, separated only by a wall from where Firefly wants its business, is Mike Neal Jr.’s Power Endurance Training Center, which is used by children as well as adults. Neal has claimed the gym is a youth center because its clientele has a majority of youth.

Under California law, there must be a buffer between commercial cannabis operations and places designated as “sensitive receptors,” such as schools and youth centers.

Because of California’s vagueness in defining “youth center,” which didn’t provide metrics to measure if a place “primarily” caters to minors, the Planning Commission had spent months deciding whether to recommend the Martinez City Council approve Firefly’s application.

Firefly’s is the only application that was being processed wen the City Council approved a moratorium on commercial cannabis operations until its ordinance could be crafted to include a more precise definition of “youth center.”

Panel members sought definitions that wouldn’t require excessive amounts of staff time or case-by-case censuses of a company’s or organization’s clientele.

Commissioner Jim Blair said he favored Alameda’s approach, which said a youth center ‘exclusively” caters to minors. He preferred that to arguing whether a center, which California’s definition says “primarily” is for youth, should have more than 50 percent youth clients or a larger percentage, such as 80.

Rather than the state’s cannabis law, Blair preferred the definition used by the California Alcohol Beverage Control, which he reminded the panel is clear enough to use in court.

“Exclusively” is a word that eliminates subjectivity, agreed Sean Commissioner Trambley.

And it would eliminate shifting numbers that could be hard to pin down as memberships change, said Commissioner Gabriel Lemus.

However, the panel agreed there were other areas where a buffer was needed, such as to separate marijuana businesses from parks, sports fields and play areas where children as well as their parents were likely to congregate.

For the most part, the panel liked the Council’s suggestion of a 600-foot buffer between retail marijuana operations and those sensitive receptors.

However, several wanted the Council to examine whether buffers were needed in industrial or other intense zones, where cannabis businesses wouldn’t be dealing directly with the public.

The Commission generally liked other elements likely to appear in the final draft of the ordinance, which the panel will review before it’s finally sent to the Council. No members of the public expressed an opinion on the proposed ordinance.

Among the provisions in the proposed ordinance are limiting the total commercial cannabis companies to seven, of which two would be retail operations, one would be a manufacturer, one would be a distributor, one would be a testing lab and no more than two would have delivery licenses, and those would be associated with retail operations.

The Commission suggested the Council also consider microbusinesses as well.

City staff has proposed putting testing laboratories in the city’s research and development, light industrial, heavy industrial and controlled industrial zones, and distributors and manufacturers in the light, heavy and controlled industrial zones.

Retailers could go into neighborhood commercial, central commercial, service commercial, thoroughfare commercial and light industrial zones, the Council has requested, but Main and Ferry streets would be off-limits.

Rather than the conventional application procedures, in the case of commercial cannabis businesses, Martinez would issue a request for proposals with guidelines. That period would last 60 days.

Submissions would evaluated and ranked by a Proposal Review Commission made up of the police chief, financial director, Community and Economic Development department director and a commercial cannabis expert.

The review committee would send its scoring as well as any appeals to the Council for consideration for a conditional certificate.

Then the applicants may apply for appropriate permits which would be evaluated under the California Environmental Quality Act. Those businesses must be operational in a year, or the conditional certificate would become void.

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