CA: Moreno Valley Approves Comprehensive Recreational Marijuana Package

Photo Credit: Kevin Sullivan

Moreno Valley officials set the stage for a full range of legal marijuana businesses to open in Riverside County’s second-largest city while limiting the total number of commercial pot enterprises to 27 — eight of them dispensaries — in passing a comprehensive package Tuesday, March 20.

The widely anticipated move comes as the city is in the process of shutting down illegal pot stores.

City Attorney Martin Koczanowicz said that since last summer the city has discovered 20 dispensaries operating illegally in Moreno Valley and shut down 15, and is now working to eliminate the other five.

Although recreational marijuana has been legal in California since Jan. 1, Moreno Valley had yet to issue a permit because it was still working on a regulatory package.

In adopting the package of ordinances and resolutions on Tuesday, however, the Moreno Valley City Council paved the way for rolling out one of the more permissive marijuana programs in the Inland Empire. The council voted 4-1 to pass the measures, with Councilman Jeffrey Giba voting no.

The council set caps on the number of firms that may receive permits to operate in each of six business categories, and limited them to certain commercial, industrial and business-park zones.

The council rejected a call from public speakers to increase the total number of allowable dispensaries, and decided to shave the staff’s proposed target of 10 dispensaries to eight, upon the suggestion of Councilman Ulises Cabrera.

The council is expected to give the final green light to measures in two weeks.

In anticipation of approval, city officials said they intend to accept online applications from prospective operators April 2 through May 11, then begin reviewing applications.

On Tuesday, the council agreed to contract with HdL Companies of Diamond Bar, which has experience administering marijuana programs in California, Colorado and Washington, to run Moreno Valley’s program. The city agreed to pay the firm $167,250 for the balance of the fiscal year that runs through June, and $281,000 annually the next four years.

A companion land use ordinance allows up to eight dispensaries, eight cultivation facilities, five manufacturing plants, two testing facilities, two distribution centers and two cannabis microbusinesses. The latter would be small, one-stop shops that have at least three of four types of marijuana operations: cultivation, manufacturing, dispensary and distribution.

“It’s my understanding,” said Councilwoman Victoria Baca, “that these microbusinesses are going to be like an Apple store. That’s how classy they are going to be.”

Cultivation, manufacturing and testing operations would be restricted to business park and light industrial zones along the south side of the 60 freeway between Moreno Beach Drive and Theodore Street, the east side of I-215 and the north side of Cactus Avenue between I-215 and Heacock Street.

Other types of businesses could locate in commercial zones along freeways and major streets, such as Alessandro Boulevard and Perris Boulevard.

In order to fund the program, the city plans to charge an annual permitting fee of $58,000.

Alfie Hernandez, one of 13 people to speak to the council about the plan, said the fee was too high.

“This program is going to crash and burn before it even gets off its feet,” Hernandez said.

And Roy Bleckert warned that “if you overtax it… you will strengthen the black market and you will not have the legal businesses get a foothold. You will kill an industry.”

Council members said the fee was merely designed to recoup the city’s costs of operating the program.

However, later this spring the council is expected to take up a proposal to ask city voters in November to tax marijuana businesses.