Fullerton City Council voted 3-2 (Fitzgerald and Whitaker “no”) at their October 6 meeting to introduce an ordinance that would allow and regulate certain commercial cannabis activities in the City. Council will vote to adopt the ordinance at their next meeting.
The ordinance allows 5 cannabis retail businesses, 5 manufacturing, 5 cultivation, 5 transportation/distribution and unlimited testing businesses in certain commercial and manufacturing zones within the City pursuant to specified development and operational standards. Here is a map of where such businesses would be allowed to locate:
The ordinance also requires a separation “buffer” of 800-feet from schools, daycares, youth centers, youth organizations or club facilities, parks, playgrounds, city community centers, and libraries. It also requires a 300-feet buffer between retail locations.
The businesses will be selected through a merit-based point system reviewed and scored by an independent review panel. City Council will certify the selection process and the top candidates list. Commercial cannabis business permits must be renewed annually.
The ordinance also has local hiring and social equity requirements, extensive security requirements, and a community relations representative for ongoing outreach and education.
Cannabis/Marijuana was legalized for recreational use in California by Proposition 64 in 2016 by a majority of voters, including a majority of voters in Fullerton.
Between February and August 2020, the City held 5 community outreach meetings on this topic.
Earlier this year, the City contracted with a company called FM3 to conduct a poll of City residents to get their answers to the question, “Do you support or oppose allowing, regulating, and taxing the sale of cannabis products to adults over the age of 21 in Fullerton?” Here are the results of that poll:
According to a staff report, all costs associated with the ordinance are anticipated to be fully recovered through fees charged to the cannabis business applicants for a total annual revenue of $2.25 to $3.75 million once fully implemented and if all permits are issued.
With the approval of the ordinance, the City also becomes eligible for cannabis-related grant opportunities from the State, through the Marijuana Tax Fund, to provide financial support for development of programs related to substance abuse prevention, public safety, youth education, and economic development.
During public comment, several residents and parents (including many Spanish-speaking residents from south Fullerton) expressed opposition to the ordinance out of concern that children (and residents) would have access to cannabis and the negative impact this would have both on individuals and the neighborhood.
Some told of their negative experiences with having illegal dispensaries operating in their neighborhoods, and the negative impacts of marijuana on the lives of their family members.
Jay Williams of local nonprofit OC United pointed out that the bulk of the dispensaries would be in south Fullerton, further exacerbating the inequalities between north and south.
Leonel Talavera said that the City should equitably distribute these dispensaries throughout all 5 districts.
Other public commenters who were in support of the ordinance argued that legal operators are not allowed to sell cannabis to children, are heavily regulated and vetted, and that allowing legal dispensaries would give the City the ability to more effectively shut down illegal dispensaries, create a safer product, decrease crime, increase City revenues, and create new jobs.
Mayor Fitzgerald, who voted against the ordinance, asked that Council consider removing retail dispensaries from the ordinance, and expressed concern about the lack of a buffer from residential zones.
Council Member Jesus Silva, who voted for the ordinance, said that legal dispensaries have 24-hr security and lighting, and that the legal ones will eliminate the residents’ concerns with illegal ones. He cited the example of the city of Santa Ana, which went from over 100 illegal dispensaries to a handful after they allowed legal ones.
Silva moved to amend the ordinance to have no more than 2 dispensaries per district, and no more than 3 south of Chapman to avoid over-concentration in south Fullerton.
Councilmember Ahmad Zahra, who voted for the ordinance, said that this is not a moral issue, but is about public policy. He said that when the City does not regulate substances that are legal, it creates a black market. He said that kids are currently getting cannabis from illegal dispensaries and that his goal has always been to get rid of illegal dispensaries.
Zahra said that legalization has been tested in other cities and has resulted in reduction in crime and illegal dispensaries and that we need to create education programs.
Whitaker, who voted against the ordinance, but also voted against the city cannabis ban in 2017, said he thinks it is wrong to impose this on longstanding neighborhoods.
Mayor Pro Tem Flory, who voted for the ordinance, said that cannabis gets in the hands of kids because they’re getting it from illegal dispensaries and the black market, and that this ordinance makes businesses accountable.
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