By JEFF CLEMETSON | La Mesa Courier
On Aug. 15, the city of La Mesa held a public workshop to discuss its draft plan to legalize recreational cannabis sales.
The new adult-use plan is a final step to decriminalize marijuana that began with Measure U, the citizens’ initiative that made medical cannabis use legal in the city, followed by Proposition V, which set up a taxation framework for both medical- and adult-use cannabis.
Although the plan presented at the workshop is similar to the rules set out in Measure U, there are some key differences — and one that cannabis industry members who attended the event said would adversely affect dispensaries that the city has already approved.
The proposed measure will beef up restrictions on where recreational retail cannabis shops will be allowed to operate. Unlike Measure U, which restricts medical dispensaries from operating near sensitive areas like schools, churches and parks within 1,000 feet measured by path of travel, the proposed adult-use plan would measure that 1,000 feet from property lines. The new rules would also more clearly define what areas or businesses are sensitive and child-centric.
What that means, said La Mesa Director of Community Development Kerry Kusiak, is that there will be fewer areas in the city that will be allowed to house adult-use dispensaries compared to medical dispensaries. In fact, he said, of the 15 medical dispensaries that the city has already approved, only five would be able to switch over to selling recreational cannabis.
Several cannabis professionals at the workshop pointed out that these rules could derail some businesses that have already poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into opening medical dispensaries, and may now be at a competitive disadvantage because they won’t be able to sell cannabis products to any adult over 21 years of age — only those with medical cards or permission from a doctor. Many said the city should “grandfather in” existing or already-approved dispensaries to be fair.
Kusiak, and Vice Mayor Bill Baber who also spoke at the workshop, told the people in attendance to submit written comments on the proposal to the city by Aug. 26 for consideration.
Another major change from Measure U in the proposal is that new adult-use facilities will not need to go through the existing conditional use permit (CUP) process to operate in the city. Measure U set up the process to get a license to operate as a land-use process, subject to votes by the Planning Commission and City Council, but guaranteed by land-use entitlements rules. The proposed adult-use ordinance will make the process a city business license process that will be split up into two phases — phase one focuses on applicant and site qualification; phase two evaluates the site and operation. The application process will be handled through City Hall and governed by the rules in the ordinance.
Many of the rules in the ordinance are the same as Measure U — safety requirements for the properties (alarms, armed security, cameras, etc.), hours of operation, odor control, background checks for employees, and advertising restrictions. The new ordinance also adds some experience requirements for operators of adult-use businesses and sets the renewal for licenses every two years. Licenses will be denied to anyone who has operated dispensaries in violation of Measure U or has had a felony conviction. Licenses can be revoked for felony convictions or any suspensions or revocations imposed by the state.
For medical dispensaries that are within the zones approved for adult use, there is a simplified process to add a recreational cannabis license.
In addition to retail businesses, the new ordinance would also authorize cannabis grow operations, testing facilities and manufacturing of cannabis products. Those types of businesses would only be allowed in the parts of the city zones for industrial service and manufacturing.
Written comments on the plan will be accepted on or before Aug. 26. Interested parties should send their comments to Kusiak at email@example.com or to 8130 Allison Ave., La Mesa, CA 91942.
At the workshop, Vice Mayor Bill Baber said the goal is to bring a final draft to a vote at City Council’s Sept. 10 meeting. To read a copy of the draft ordinance, visit bit.ly/2Tegm8v.
— Reach editor Jeff Clemetson at firstname.lastname@example.org.