CONCORD — The city is likely to loosen its restrictions on cannabis and allow more cannabis businesses to open within its borders.
In its meeting Tuesday night, the City Council directed planning staff to draft an ordinance that would expand the city’s cannabis business licenses to allow manufacturers and distributors to sell to adults without a medicinal cannabis prescription and to remove or increase the current cap on how many cannabis licenses can be issued to cannabis manufacturing, distribution and testing laboratories.
After California voters approved Proposition 64 in 2016 to allow adults over age 21 to legally possess up to six cannabis plants and to transport or give away small amounts of cannabis, Concord adopted a temporary ban on cannabis activities except small-scale indoor growing for personal use and delivery of cannabis from dispensaries based outside the city. The city also granted two licenses for medicinal-only cannabis distributors and manufacturers and two licenses for cannabis testing laboratories.
City staff has recommended that the council allow cannabis businesses to manufacture and distribute to adults without a prescription — known as “adult-use” or sometimes “recreational” cannabis sales — which is consistent withwhat they will consider when they weigh rules about storefront cannabis retail businesses in November. Allowing adult-use cannabis distribution in addition to medicinal cannabis distribution is where the industry is moving and would help attract “major cannabis industry players,” staff wrote in a report for the council meeting.
Staff also urged the council to remove the cap on how many licenses can be issued for cannabis manufacturing, distribution and testing labs. More of these businesses, staff wrote in the report, would generate economic development for the city, provide more jobs and potentially decrease illegal sales of cannabis.
The council unanimously expressed support for the move toward expanding the city’s licenses to include adult-use cannabis manufacturing and distribution, but some had reservations about removing a cap on the number of those businesses in the city.
Councilmembers Laura Hoffmeister and Dominic Aliano expressed a desire to increase the cap to allow a few more manufacturers and distributors to open instead of remove the limit entirely.
“I think it’s important to have control of this business within our limits,” Aliano said.
Almost all the council supported removing the cap on cannabis testing facilities, in particular.
Mayor Carlyn Obringer said, however, that she would want to see numbers from staff about the potential impact on commercial and industrial space in the city before making a decision on lifting or raising the cap on all the businesses.
Staff acknowledged in the report that opening up cannabis distribution licenses could impact the already tight market for industrial space, which had a 1.7 percent vacancy rate in July and could potentially raise commercial rents in the city.
Obringer is also concerned about how increasing cannabis accessibility will conflict with another priority — banning smoking of all kinds in places like townhomes or apartments.
The council will weigh the draft regulations that city staff brings to them in the fall and winter, as well as other cannabis ordinance proposals about storefront retail cannabis businesses and where cannabis businesses should be allowed in the city. While the city currently has a cannabis “overlay” district that limits cannabis businesses mostly to its northern industrial area — some councilmembers want to review that in the fall.
Vice Mayor Tim McGallian suggested that while it might be good to remove that boundary, he’d want to see a limit on the density of cannabis businesses. The city will review what it considers “sensitive” uses from which cannabis businesses would have to be separated, such as parks or schools.
The city could get pushback from residents if it moves forward with increasing cannabis accessibility in the city.
Several residents wrote to the city and spoke at the meeting to express concerns about cannabis access for youth or for public safety.
Resident Mike McDermott expressed concern about the potential impact on public safety from allowing more cannabis accessibility in the city.
“I understand the need for more city revenue, but please not at the expense of public health and safety,” McDermott wrote in an email to the city council, which he echoed in comments during the meting. “Concord does not need to be the regional epicenter for recreational cannabis manufacturing and sales.”
But Concord Police Chief Guy Swanger spoke at the meeting to assure the council that he does not see a safety risk with allowing more cannabis distributors and manufacturers to open.
And residents who rely on cannabis for pain management or other medicinal uses have urged the council to make the product more accessible in the city.
“I want it to be able to get it in Concord. Why do I have to drive to Harborside (in Oakland)?” asked resident Devlyn Sewell, urging the council to move quickly in allowing cannabis distributors and retailers to open. “I think you’re cheating our residents, making them run through hoops when they can’t, to get medication.”
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