CA: Commercial Cannabis To Vote In Half Moon Bay

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The Half Moon Bay City Council is set to vote on regulations for nurseries that grow and sell baby cannabis plants at a meeting June 5 as four advisory ballot measures on commercial cannabis in general are being prepared for the November ballot.

The ordinance would only allow non-flowering cannabis starter plants to be grown in the city’s A-1 agricultural zones and in greenhouses on land where they already exist. The plants would then be transported out of the city and sold before they mature. Those starter plants cannot exceed 18 inches in length or width as a rule, though most will likely be sold at less than half of that size.

Greenhouses must meet required setbacks of 200 feet from Highway 1 and properties zoned for residential use, while schools, child-care facilities and youth centers require a 1,000-foot buffer. Growing areas would also be capped at 66,000 square feet.

Retail sales and all other commercial cannabis activity would remain illegal.

Deputy City Manager Matthew Chidester said only four properties within city limits would qualify for nurseries, which comes out to about 56 acres of land or 276,000 square feet of growing space, though Chidester anticipates less than half of that would actually be used for nurseries as only two of the four eligible property owners appear seriously interested in pursuing the business.

“It will be a pretty small operation,” Chidester said.

Greenhouses can be rebuilt, per the ordinance, but growing areas cannot be expanded nor can a second story be added.

A draft of the ordinance regulating cannabis nurseries was published in February for community feedback and has since seen two noteworthy changes, Chidester said. It now allows for a small number of mature plants, which cannot be sold and can only be grown insofar as they’re needed to produce immature ones. Another minor tweak will ensure that the moratorium on all other commercial cannabis activities would not be affected by any future citizen referendum on the nursery ordinance, Chidester said, adding that staff is “worried” about such a referendum.

Chidester said residents concerned about commercial cannabis generally appear to make no exception for nurseries, and while 69 percent of residents voted for Prop 64, public opinion on the matter isn’t exactly clear.

To that end, four likely advisory ballot measures for the November election will be announced Friday, June 1. The simple yes or no questions will ask voters if Half Moon Bay should allow cannabis nurseries, cultivation of mature plants, limited cannabis retail or manufacturing. But if the council chooses to pursue nurseries before November, that particular question may not make it to the ballot, Chidester added.

The results of those ballot measures will help the city determine if the moratorium should be solidified or if staff should pursue additional commercial cannabis-related ordinances, Chidester said, adding that most of the feedback the city has received on the ordinance thus far has been negative.

Councilmembers have previously celebrated nurseries as a low-impact operation that could help revitalize the city’s cut flower industry, arguing that the immature plants emit no odors, are much less valuable than mature ones and likely won’t attract criminal activity. City staff currently is also studying the impacts of commercial cultivation of mature plants should such operations be allowed in the future.

In San Mateo County, Redwood City recently welcomed nurseries as well as cannabis delivery operations in city limits. Pacifica voters approved a local tax on marijuana operations in November, while other cities have allowed some aspect of commercial cannabis such as San Carlos, which allows commercial cultivation, manufacturing and testing subject to regulation and zoning, but is not allowing retail storefronts. On the other end of the spectrum, Foster City has an interim ordinance banning all commercial cannabis activity.