CA: SLO City Council Allows County’s First Recreational Marijuana Stores

Photo Credit: Jim Wilson

San Luis Obispo will become the first city in the county to allow recreational marijuana stores after the City Council approved its new cannabis ordinance on Tuesday.

The City Council unanimously passed the draft cannabis law, which allows up to three retail storefronts on major arterial roads, including Broad Street, South Higuera and Tank Farm Road.

The ordinance is awaiting some final legislative tweaks before it becomes official. It won’t take effect until the city addresses how cannabis will be taxed. The council is looking to put a tax measure on the November ballot and will discuss possible rates at its May 15 meeting.

The council also voted to establish six zones throughout the city where all cannabis industries will be required to operate, including testing, manufacturing, delivery, cultivating and retail services.

Other provisions of the new law include:

▪ At least one storefront will be reserved for a holder of a medical marijuana license (that store also could sell recreational marijuana).

▪ Cannabis consumption will not be allowed at events nor in stores or businesses.

▪ Each residence can have a maximum of six cannabis plants (indoor and outdoor combined); up to six outdoor plants for personal cultivation are allowed per parcel regardless of how many residences are on the parcel.

▪ Cannabis retail stores must be 300 feet from residential zones and 1,000 feet from schools and parks within designated zones.

▪ Commercial cultivation is limited to indoors only, and up to 70,000 square feet of total canopy citywide is allowed.

▪ Businesses must meet city requirements for energy and water efficiency under climate action goals; manufacturing is limited to non-volatile processes only.

The zones include a large swath on the south end of the city, as well as the Broad Street corridor. They are largely kept away from Cal Poly and some of the city’s densest residential neighborhoods.

The idea behind the boundaries is to create buffers from schools and homes to best avoid complaints about odors and the potential safety risks if any crimes occur, which can be associated with marijuana businesses.

The council, however, suggested that it may expand the drafted zones slightly before in their final form so as to prevent a “land grab” for limited available spaces, said Councilman Aaron Gomez.

Mayor Heidi Harmon said she recognizes concerns the Police Department has with cannabis-related events and enforcing laws, but she hopes to find ways to allow for them in the future.

“Types of events like ‘paint and puff’ … or wine-pairing events are ones we should be considering,” Harmon said. “If we’re treating this so differently from alcohol, that doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Councilwoman Carlyn Christianson also pushed for the council to relax some of the suggested permitting requirements for operators.

“Sometimes it seems like we’re being overly invasive,” Christianson said. “It feels like we’re over-regulating.”

Christianson called for allowing operator permits to be valid for more than a year without renewal if businesses are following laws and paying fees, and for making it easier for a business to transfer ownership without potentially losing its license.

Those tweaks will be considered in the final draft of the ordinance.

Interim attorney Anne Russell said cannabis “isn’t your typical business and the state of California doesn’t treat it like your typical business,” and thus laws are intended to ensure safety and protection of the community, along with keeping businesses out of the hands of criminals.

“Police on the street need to be able to come in and verify compliance,” Russell said.

Police Chief Deanna Cantrell compared laws around cannabis business inspections to similar laws on alcohol regulation, saying officers show up unannounced to liquor stores to ensure compliance with drinking laws, including making sure businesses don’t serve to minors.

“We inspect for license, we inspect for underage consumption, we do shoulder-tap investigations, we send undercover folks in there,” Cantrell said. “We do all of that with alcohol establishments and we do the same thing with massage establishments. These are highly regulated businesses and the laws are to regulate the illegal sale of marijuana.”