Solvang City Council plans to introduce a comprehensive set of cannabis regulations at its regular meeting Monday, which could leave the door ajar just enough for a recreational cannabis operation to slip into the city.
At least, that’s what the mayor fears might happen unless the City Council decides Monday to pick up a cannabis ban where it left it lying July 23.
“We’ll see what happens, if the council wants to take a chance,” Mayor Jim Richardson said earlier this week.
Moving forward on the cannabis regulations could leave a two-day window with no regulations in place for the city that tried to get the jump on recreational cannabis regulation two years ago after playing catch-up on medical marijuana.
After voters approved the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, and the Legislature passed subsequent laws collectively known as the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, the Solvang City Council amended the Municipal Code to prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation throughout the city.
The new ordinances did, however, permit the delivery of medical marijuana to individuals in the city who qualified as patients under the Compassionate Use Act.
But when it appeared voters were poised to also approve the Adult Use Marijuana Act in the 2016 general election, the council launched a pre-emptive strike.
In a unanimous vote, the council approved an urgency ordinance prohibiting the manufacturing, processing, laboratory testing, labeling, storing and wholesale and retail distribution of cannabis, effective Sept. 26, 2016.
The urgency ordinance was recommended by then-City Attorney Roy Hanley to “preserve the status quo” in case Proposition 64 was approved by voters that November.
The ban would also give the council time to study the issues of medical and recreational marijuana use before directing staff to develop a comprehensive ordinance regulating the drug.
As an urgency ordinance, the ban was good for 45 days, although it could be and was extended for 10 months and 15 days, then extended again for one year.
But now time is running out, and current City Attorney Dave Fleishman said the urgency ordinance will expire Sept. 21. No more extensions are allowed under state law.
Ready to regulate
Things were moving along earlier this year. On April 2, a draft of a regular ordinance essentially banning all cannabis operations, except the delivery of medical marijuana and personal use indoors on private property, went before the Planning Commission.
Commissioners recommended approval of the ordinance with some changes, and the City Council had a first reading of the proposed regulations May 14.
But when it returned for final adoption May 29, the council decided to hold off the decision and send it back to the Planning Commission to examine the possibility of allowing medical marijuana dispensaries in a particular zone outside the tourist-serving retail core.
On July 2, the commission reviewed the idea and determined if dispensaries were to be allowed, it should only be in the C-3 Zone at the western entrance to the city.
That same day, the City Council decided to hedge its bets by holding a special meeting to authorize placing a cannabis tax measure on the November ballot.
At its July 16 meeting, the council conducted a first reading of the revised ordinance, which was scheduled to return for final adoption at the July 23 meeting, when the council would also consider hiring a consultant to formulate an ordinance and license regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries.
Had the ordinance been adopted at that meeting, it would have become effective in 30 days, nearly a month before the urgency ordinance expires.
But the issue of hiring a consultant came up first — specifically, a proposal from HdL Companies, which has special expertise in developing cannabis management programs, at a cost of $26,400.
City Manager Brad Vidro told the council that law firm partners Hanley and Fleishman could do the same job for an estimated $6,600.
“One piece (of the package) you might want to retain HdL for is the cost recovery piece,” Vidro told the council, noting the consulting firm has a special expertise in assuring the fees paid by license applicants cover the city’s costs in processing them.
Some council members expressed concern that the city could spend $26,400 developing regulations and then have no one apply to operate a dispensary, while spending only $6,600 would be less of a gamble.
Councilwoman Karen Waite moved to have the attorneys prepare the bulk of the ordinance, retain HdL for the cost-recovery aspect at a cost not to exceed $5,000 and authorize a budget transfer of $11,600 to cover the costs..
But Richardson made a substitute motion to take no action until the city knows what kind of interest there is for cannabis businesses to set up shop, but it died for lack of a second, leading to Waite’s motion being approved on a 4-1 vote, with Richardson dissenting.
The timeline squeeze
When the ordinance came up for final approval, Richardson and Councilwoman Joan Jamieson were ready to adopt it and each made a motion to that effect. Both died for lack of a second.
Fleishman cautioned the council that while he and Hanley could generate a comprehensive set of regulations within a matter of days, it “might not be our best work” and some details might slip by.
He also noted that since final adoption of ordinances must be done at a regular council meeting, in order to have them in effect before the urgency ordinance expired, that would have to be done Aug. 13 to allow for the 30-day delay.
So the ordinances would have to be introduced at a special meeting prior to Aug. 13.
“I’m just hesitant to adopt it,” Waite said of the ordinance. “I just feel we need additional information.”
She recommended taking a chance that no one with a state cannabis license would apply for a city business license during the interim when Solvang had no regulations at all.
Councilman Ryan Toussaint moved to have the attorneys prepare the regulations in an effort to meet the tight schedule, and that passed 4-1, with Richardson again dissenting.
But no special meeting was called to introduce ordinances drawn up by the attorneys, and instead they’ll be introduced at the Aug. 13 meeting.
If approved on a second reading Aug. 27, they’ll go into effect Sept. 26 — the third business day after the urgency ordinance expires — and that worries Richardson.
“That’s my fear, that we won’t make it and someone will come along with an application when we have no regulations,” he said Monday.
Richardson doesn’t want any cannabis operations at all within the city limits.
“I’m absolutely opposed to recreational and medical marijuana,” he said. “I believe if the folks in the city want medical marijuana, there are plenty of places for it in the Santa Ynez Valley.
“Solvang has an image to uphold as a Danish community,” he explained. “And if we get known as a pot community, it could hurt our image and hurt our business, which is tourism.”
But he noted the council still has an out — if it chooses to take it at the Aug. 13 meeting.
“It depends on how a majority of the council feels,” he said. “We could still have a second reading (and final adoption) of the ban. It’s still out there on the table.”
But it’s not on the Aug. 13 agenda, and the comprehensive regulations are.