After voting 3-2 to introduce an ordinance that would allow a limited number of cannabis businesses in Fullerton at their October 6 meeting, City Council reversed course at their October 20 meeting, and voted 4-1 (Silva “no”) to “table” the ordinance, meaning it will likely not come back in its current form.
The ordinance was the result of over a year of planning and 5 community meetings.
The reason for the vote change was the presence of many Fullerton residents who showed up to speak against the ordinance, many of them from south Fullerton, where the majority of cannabis businesses would likely end up due to the large areas of commercial and industrial zoning in the south. Under the proposed ordinance, cannabis businesses could only locate in certain commercial and industrial zones, mainly in south Fullerton.
“Council, you are looking at this as a way to bring in revenue, but today I’m speaking as a mother,” Egleth Nunnci said. “We don’t want this in our city.”
Angela Andrade, a Fullerton resident and deputy Orange County sheriff, said, “We create norms for our children. By allowing this in our community we’re letting them know that this is okay, and I’m not okay with that.”
Jay Williams of local non-profit OC United said of the Valencia Park community of south Fullerton, “I think they’ve declared pretty clearly that they don’t want it….To me the potential revenue is not worth the cost to our families.”
Others spoke in favor of the ordinance.
Dana Cisneros said that cannabis businesses bring good jobs and can revitalize commercial centers.
Daniel Lee, who works in the cannabis industry, said that medical use of cannabis helped his father with his dementia and Alzheimer’s.
John Donahue, a partner at a dispensary in Santa Ana, said that cannabis is already in the city of Fullerton, and that it is up to Council to regulate it to protect residents.
“If you’re worried about your child gaining access to cannabis when they’re underage, keep marijuana illegal. People on the black market do not care about how old your children are,” said another cannabis dispensary worker from Santa Ana. “As licensed retail professionals, we go through rigorous testing, background checks, and all the other necessary steps to ensure that people are entering a safe space, getting a safe product, as consenting adults.”
“Prohibition has done more harm than good for the community,” another public commenter said. “Allowing licensed cannabis activities in a manner that promotes public health and safety is of the utmost importance…it will replace bad actors with controlled operators.”
After listening to many public comments, City Council weighed in on the ordinance.
“After the discussions I’ve had the last two weeks and everybody we heard from tonight,” Mayor Jennifer Fitzgerald said, “I think it’s incumbent on government to make an extra effort to take a step back even when it’s painful and awkward, to involve as much as the community as possible…I don’t think it’s good for our community to move forward like this, and I move to table this.”
Council Member Jesus Silva said that the proposed ordinance and regulations would allow the City to close down the illegal dispensaries.
“The cannabis is here,” Silva said. “How do we gain some control and manage it? I think this would be the best way to do that.”
Council Member Ahmad Zahra spoke in favor of the ordinance.
“There are common goals we have,” he said, addressing those who spoke against the ordinance. “Your goal is to protect the kids from access [to cannabis] and to protect the community. This is what our goal is too. We’re differing on how to do that.”
He said that illegal unregulated dispensaries are what hurt the community, and that legal regulated ones would help keep the community safe. Zahra said that by not taking action, the City is putting itself at risk.
“If we don’t create our own ordinance, I know for a fact that there are citizens groups out there that are going to put this on the ballot. They will craft their own ordinance that favors the industry, not us. And they will put it on the ballot and people are going to vote for it because the majority of people have voted for it already,” Zahra said.
Mayor Pro Tem Jan Flory, who voted for the ordinance at the last meeting, changed her position and voted to table it. She said she thinks the ordinance is good policy but acknowledged all those who showed up to oppose the ordinance.
“I think that we should pass this ordinance tonight but I’m not going to do it. And the reason I am not going to do it is because I have heard what the community has said,” Flory said. “I’m going to vote to table this and you will bear the consequences of this. That may be 2 more years of no regulation, of illegal shops, of your kids getting this when you don’t want them to have it.”
Council Member Bruce Whitaker, who voted against cannabis prohibition in 2017, voted to table the item. “I’ve heard loud and clear from people that they want a say in these changes, changes that are being imposed on your neighborhoods, changes that would affect your children,” Whitaker said.
Ultimately, Council voted 4-1 (Silva, “no”) to table the item, meaning that for now the ordinance is dead and cannabis businesses will remain illegal in the city of Fullerton.
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