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Council to Reconsider Cannabis Ordinance

In 2016, voters in California approved Proposition 64 (the Adult Use of Marijuana Act), which legalized adult use and sale of cannabis statewide. In Fullerton the road to official legalization and allowing legal cannabis businesses, however, has proved much rockier. On November 17, 2020, City Council approved an ordinance legally allowing a limited number of cannabis businesses in the City. However, at their first meeting of 2021, the newly-configured Fullerton City Council voted 3-2 to bring back the ordinance for discussion at their February 16 meeting, including the option to rescind the ordinance completely.

Cities retain a measure of local control over where and how many cannabis businesses are allowed. For the past four years, that number has been zero (officially). This has not stopped illegal dispensaries from popping up around the City, which are difficult to close down given due process provisions of the law. Police are generally not allowed to just “raid” and shut down illegal dispensaries. Instead, the city must go through a lengthy administrative process involving code enforcement, fines, and legal hearings.

How We Got Here

Following the passage of Prop 64, Fullerton City Council voted to ban all cannabis businesses in the City in 2017.

In October 2019, Council voted 3-2 to pass a “resolution of intention” to consider allowing some cannabis businesses in Fullerton. There followed a number of community meetings, a panel discussion, and a Q & A session.

In October 2020, Council voted to introduce a cannabis ordinance. At the next meeting, as a result of many community members speaking against the ordinance, Council voted to table the ordinance. Then on November 17, Council voted for the current ordinance.

In January, two newly-elected councilmembers were sworn into office—Fred Jung and Nick Dunlap. And at the January 19 meeting, these two new councilmembers voted along with re-elected Mayor Bruce Whitaker to bring back the ordinance for amendment, or possible rescission, at their February 16 meeting.

Residential “Buffer” Zones

A key point of contention with the recently-passed ordinance, which took effect December 17, 2020, is residential “buffer zones”—that is, how far away potential cannabis businesses must be from residential properties.

The current ordinance has no residential buffer, although it does not allow cannabis businesses in residential zones.

The ordinance does have 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.

During previous discussions, some councilmembers said they opposed the residential buffer because it would have the practical effect of concentrating most of the cannabis businesses in south Fullerton.

At previous meetings, many residents from south Fullerton have spoken in opposition to the ordinance—partly because of its disproportionate concentration in their area.

In the supporting materials for this agenda item, City staff included a number of maps, which included varying amounts of residential buffers. With each increasing buffer, the number of potential locations in which cannabis businesses may locate decreases.

Map of the original ordinance with allowable locations included:

Here is a map of allowable locations should Council approve the more restrictive 1000-foot residential buffer.

Public Comments

At the January 19 City Council meeting, some members of the public weighed in on Council re-considering the ordinance.

As at previous meetings, a number of residents of south Fullerton spoke in favor of reconsidering the ordinance, and against the ordinance in general, citing the negative impact cannabis has on young people in their neighborhoods.

Ilse Miranda spoke on behalf of a number of residents who had gathered outside Council chambers. “These are the ladies, the parents of Fullerton. These are the parents who are asking you to rescind the ordinance.”

Resident Christy Sims said she was in favor of “the possibility of rescinding the ordinance because of the overwhelming number of Fullerton residents against cannabis businesses in Fullerton.”

Fullerton resident Katie, a mother of three, spoke in favor of the ordinance, and against the new Council’s move to reconsider it.

“You are trying to take an ordinance that went through all the various steps, multiple public comments to get to the point we’re at, and clearly there is a lack of education about how pot stores work,” she said. “You can’t enter a pot shop unless you’re 21 years of age.”

Dana Cisneros, a cannabis attorney who was a presenter on a City-sponsored panel discussion, also spoke against continuing or rescinding the ordinance. “This has been a well-vetted and well-discussed ordinance,” she said.

A speaker named Connor also spoke against continuing or rescinding the ordinance.

“These continued delays, all they do is to continue encouraging and subsidizing the $10 billion illegal cannabis market in California,” he said. “And that market is made up of drug dealers who ply high schools and colleges and youth centers. Every week you delay this issue, you are allowing the $10 billion illegal cannabis market to continue and endanger the children of the City you’re supposed to represent.”

Former City Councilmember Jan Flory, who had voted for the original ordinance, spoke against re-considering it.

“We’ve been dealing with this issue since 2016. We have had numerous community meetings, much outreach to the community, three very hotly contested hearings on the matter, and it seems to me that this was presented as an amendment to the ordinance to discuss buffer distances, and now it’s turned into something quite different,” Flory said.

Council Discussion

After listening to public comment, Council discussed the item.

Mayor Pro Tem Dunlap made a motion to continue discussion of the ordinance to Feb. 16, along with a possibility to rescind it.

“There’s this policy that we’re kind of rushing to throw down, and I don’t think that’s the way to enact a policy like this that’s going to affect so many in the community,” Dunlap said.

Councilmember Silva, who voted against Dunlap’s motion, said, “We have not tried to rush this through…We put it out for the public…It’s been going on for four years now.”

Councilmember Zahra, who also voted against the motion, said that many community members were prepared to speak at the Jan. 19 meeting.

“A lot of community members sent messages, e-mails, petitions, a lot have submitted comments tonight. I don’t see why we cannot address this today, or at least have a discussion on what you brought to us to address,” Zahra said. “I’m a little hesitant on moving something that everyone came prepared to speak on.”

Councilmember Jung, who supported the motion to continue the item, said he’d be open “to consider residential buffers of 500-1000 feet.”

“The reason why we want to continue this matter for a meeting itself is to be able to take the discussion and the time to hear all the voices in the community, not just the folks who are for it, but those who are against it, as well,” Jung said.

Mayor Whitaker, who supported the motion to continue the item, said, “The reason this was carried forward is because this item bridged both Councils—the prior Council and the new Council. And there was a lot of sentiment expressed even at the time this was passed to allow the new Council to put some of its stamp on it. So that is really the input that needs to be provided here.”

Mayor Pro Tem Dunlap said he didn’t mean to shortchange the efforts that have been done through community outreach. “I think it’s the policy and the ordinance that was put forward that was rushed. It was a blitz of sorts to try to get it done as opposed to enacting a policy. That’s why I’m supporting the continuance so that it can be properly deliberated, so that something like this doesn’t ultimately end up getting decided by a ballot initiative.”

Ultimately Council voted 3-2 (Zahra and Silva “no”) to bring back the ordinance for possible amendment or rescission at their Feb. 16 meeting.

A Citizen’s Petition

Meanwhile, on January 15, the City received a notice of intent to circulate a petition to put the cannabis ordinance on the ballot. If passed, this ordinance would supersede any Council action.

According to Domer, the ordinance connected to the petition largely mirrors what Council passed last year.

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28 replies »

  1. Meanwhile, the City received a notice of intent to circulate a petition to recall Ahmed Zahra. Never forget those little details.

  2. Yes seriously. Because it’s unpopular and I know my vote for city council was at least partly based on this issue. I’ll accept that sales should be legalized in the city, but not without the residential buffer discussed above.

  3. To me, this issue is such a needless and even tragic distraction. When we should be doing our utmost to keep people in their homes and get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible so that we can safely reopen / operate our businesses again, we find ourselves choosing to continue to talk about marijuana.

    The measure is wildly unpopular across the city, will scapegoat, again, the city’s poorer neighborhoods and may even cost a number of our otherwise hardworking and compassionate city council members their seats.

    To those Council members who’d be inclined to support this measure, I’d just say call it a mistake (“clearly it’s time hasn’t yet come”) and walk away from it.

    Any group seeking to push the matter forward could be reminded that there are _so many_ other matters that need to be attended to now that it would be a real tragedy to lose one’s seat over _this_.

    • Please quit politicking. Your desired politicians should be held to the standard they set for themselves when running for office. A politician “losing one’s seat” is not a tragedy. It’s called accountability. And who the Hell are YOU to tell people what issues they should care about?

      • David, why does it upset you so much that I’m saying that keeping people in their homes would a far more important issue to stake one’s political career on than marijuana? Seems fairly clear to me. Why does that upset you?

      • It’s called topic hijacking. If you want to impose YOUR unsolicited values and opinions about homelessness write an editorial on it. It’s just rude to do what you’ve done several times now. By diverting attention from the purpose of a post folks might get the impression you’re playing politics. Last time you starting equating people you have probably never met with the KKK – just because it felt good.

        BTW, it may come as a surprise to you, but a city council deals with dozens of issues each month that have nothing to do with homelessness. Gonna start hijacking those? Then make public comments at a council meeting and see where that gets you.

      • David, it’s not just about the homeless (and I’m not a single issue guy anyway, that one literally came to my door). Far more urgently, this is about hundreds even thousands of renters in Fullerton who could lose their homes in the coming year. And it would be a real tragedy to lose one or both of these people who’d go to the line for them because of this stupid distraction of “marijuana.” Compared to kicking kids and grandmas into the streets, “marijuana” is a trivial issue indeed.

  4. And “padre” It sounds as if you were the one declaring what should be important in one’s life and what shouldn’t. That is not your position. Judge not lest ye be judged.

    Cannabis provides great relief to those with illness, cancer, glaucoma, anxiety… Etc. It is certainly a subject that needs negotiating, conversation, compromise. The rest of the world does not stop while this is happening.

    Shame on you, I would think the true Father is not very proud of you.

  5. To add….The measure is not wildly unpopular, as much as you would like it to be. Just because you say it so does not make it true.

  6. Dear Fullerton native, to some and even a large extent _my whole purpose_ as a minister is to call people toward their better angels.

    And to be quite honest, 57, I’m more agnostic regarding cannabis than you might initially think. It’s not as if it doesn’t come up in Confession ;-).

    And yes, I do get that it’s really difficult to make the case that cannabis is significantly more dangerous to people’s health than either alcohol or tobacco, and that cannabis even has (some) positive health properties.

    My mom died of cancer 30 years ago, so it’s not as if this hasn’t come up.

    Indeed, in family lore there was the incident when my dad (he really did this), pulled out a baggie that he got from a younger coworker at his job, and told the folks giving my mom her chemo: “Look if you don’t give my wife something decent for the nausea this time, we’re going to sit down here and both she and I are going to smoke a joint or two here until you do.” 🙂

    My dad was an athlete, so he NEVER SMOKED, and my mom’s mom died of lung cancer, so it was drilled into our heads as kids not to smoke either.

    However, that all said, it’s clear as day to me that there are _many parents_ who are upset at this. I’ve literally had it told to me: “But Father, we’ve spent our entire parenthood trying to keep our kids from doing drugs, and now they want to put a dispensary down the street from us.”

    With St. Philip Benizi’s stationed in one of the poorer corners of the city, a legitimate fear of a lot of our people and their neighbors is that our part of town will be scapegoated once again with this measure.

    Anyway, with so many other problems on the city’s plate now, it honestly doesn’t seem to me worth it for a City Council member to lay down one’s head to be chopped off for this. There are certainly people gunning to do that …

    But if folks like you can show that this is a winning issue and that it won’t once again be dumped in our neighborhood, then sure, we’re a democracy (still) and _we can all learn from each other_.

    • “With St. Philip Benizi’s stationed in one of the poorer corners of the city, a legitimate fear of a lot of our people and their neighbors is that our part of town will be scapegoated once again with this measure.”

      Scapegoat. That’s funny. Your favored politicians expressly stated that there was NO DOWNSIDE to these facilities. And then they deliberately ignored calls for a buffer – any buffer – between residential neighborhoods. I suggest you take it up with your buddies in City Hall – before they get recalled, of course.

      • Hi David, clearly I do see a downside to the marijuana proposal as do _a lot_ of the residents of SW Fullerton including a lot of our parishioners at St. Philip Benizi.

      • If your parishioners feel that way they should support a recall against the people that enacted the law. It’s their Constitutional right in California. You wouldn’t want to deny them that right, would you?

      • I don’t want to deny anyone their rights David. I’m just saying that it’d be a real tragedy if many of those parishioners — again grandmas and kids — end up being thrown out of their homes because the person who would have defended them was thrown out of office over a ginned-up trivial issue like marijuana.

        And I do believe that eventuality from happening is that Silva and Zahra walk away from this issue. Yes, those of us who are honest about the marijuana issue will concede that marijuana is no worse than either alcohol or tobacco. HOWEVER, the way these things go, both dispensaries and liquor stores end up being in the poorer parts of town. Hence why a lot of people who’d otherwise not care what the Council does, are upset now.

        The tragedy is that these people may need these two a year from now…

        So I’m just begging that those who’d support this dispensary measure to JUST WALK AWAY FROM IT. It’s not worth it, not by a long shot, and will hurt a lot of people down the road.

      • Has it occurred to you that there are not so philanthropic monetary reasons your heroes have not only refused to walk away from the issue, but have actively supported the most liberal of zoning ordinances? Oh dear.

  7. One more note. This is the first time the full council has been represented by district which is a different feel and dynamic than the partially at-large council before. It’s worth noting that real representation has led to the overturning of the prior council’s decisions. The newer more direct representation alone is worth revisiting this decision.

    It’s also interesting Zahra and Silva are in favor but the majority of community opposition seems to come from their districts. Are they claiming to represent some sort of silent majority in their districts?

  8. In my opinion, Zahra and Silva are self serving slime ball crooks. They are the part of slime that that continues to cling to the walls of Fullerton…a decades long issue.

    I see what you’re saying Deke, and it does sound promising, and I agree, it does need to be revisited.

    Fullerton city council, city manager, police have such a rich “code of blue” shell game, you really cannot trust them to protect and serve the residents of Fullerton.

    • Why do you believe that Zahra and Silva are “slime ball crooks?” Or do you just not like them? In a Council that has generally become more compassionate over these past years, they’ve been in the lead in that. If one were a renter at Rancho La Paz (or since the beginning of the pandemic a renter, period) and even a restaurant owner / hard pressed senior now in the city (with the promotion of the program “Fullerton Eats”), one would see these two (among others) as friends.

      The marijuana issue, yes, IMHO an _odd issue_ to push, seems like an outlier. And yes, IMHO it’d be a waste if one or both lost their seats over _this_.

      • The better question is why do you like Zahra and Silva? And why are you hijacking posts to protect them from their own decisions? Jesus, man, get a grip.

      • David, I like the two because they’ve consistently defended the poor. I’ve seen this repeatedly with my own eyes. They are _not_ the only ones who proven that they care. And if others who’ve defended the poor get into trouble, I will try my best to defend them _as well_.

        But in this you are right: In as much as any of us makes bad decisions, eventually there’s a cost to pay. I just see the current situation with the marijuana dispensaries as a potentially tragic distraction.

        There’s still time to walk away … “Look, it’s clear that this dispensary proposal is causing an uproar in the community. And given these otherwise stressful times for all of us, it’s just not worth it to try to push this forward. The people have clearly spoken.”

        And that’d be that. 🙂

      • They weren’t elected to “defend the poor” whatever that may mean to you, although I’d be rather curious what examples you might come up with. Anyhow, MJ dispensaries have NOTHING to do with defending the poor no matter how long and hard you bark up that tree.

      • They were elected to defend the interests of the people who elected them including the poor. If their support of MJ dispensaries ends up costing them their seats, then it will have an impact on all sorts of other issues including those effecting the poor of our community, among them _now_ simply keeping our city’s most vulnerable people, including kids and grandmothers, in their homes.

        It is certainly every Council Member’s choice to vote however one wishes. However, I’d continue to say that it’d be a real tragedy if the two chose to lose their seats over this IMHO frankly trivial issue.

        The sharks are clearly already circling … what a dumb issue to _choose_ to jump into a piranha tank over.

  9. Hopping in during my late night local news crawl. Food for thought since actual public comment time has passed: is it baffling to anyone else that dispensaries are met with such hostility? That’s daft, honestly. Having a park buffer alone eliminates huge swaths of potential areas for these businesses. Adding to that a more restrictive residential buffer further pinches the availability for such businesses.

    Why the buffers? Because people are worried their kiddos are going to be near the “dangerous” weed drug? Please….. Consider Map 2 with residential buffers. How many gas stations fall within that same area and sell cigarettes which are far more harmful? Are all the bars or liquor stores selling alcohol located in the okayed blue zones in Map 2? No, of course not. Why on Earth should weed be treated so differently; it’s absurd to me? To me this is anti-weed NIMBYism that is motivated by an incredibly misguided ignorance about how “pot shops” work to quote the woman from the article. Truly absurd to me. I fail to see how a dispensary is any different from any other commercial use when it’s really no different than a specialized liquor store.

    Look, I’ve got no stake in the game. I’m not some die hard weed guy or anything. But this is a huge missed opportunity to increase desperately needed tax revenue in the city. Look at other cities that haven’t flat tired their dispensaries. They’ve got so much tax revenue, they don’t know what to do with it! Meanwhile the old city council puts out that recent sales tax measure on the ballot that got panned. I mean they’re shooting themselves in the foot! We’re shooting ourselves in the foot! There’s tax revenue just sitting not being used since 2016. Meanwhile they’re talking about recurring budget cuts to city staff and city programs, $5 million a year since the sales tax measure didn’t pass. Weed really needs to stop being treated as a boogeyman in this city when it could literally be a part of the city’s revenue nightmare.

    Insane.

    • If their support of MJ dispensaries ends up costing them their seats, then it will have an impact on all sorts of other issues including those effecting the poor of our community, among them _now_ simply keeping our city’s most vulnerable people, including kids and grandmothers, in their homes.

      It is certainly every Council Member’s choice to vote however one wishes. However, I’d continue to say that it’d be a real tragedy if the two chose to lose their seats over this IMHO frankly trivial issue.

      The sharks are clearly already circling … what a dumb issue to _choose_ to jump into a piranha tank over.

      • Sorry about this comment above (it was intended for the string above). Raymond actually does make a good argument. In the end I don’t think it will matter. The MJ issue will be, above all, used as a freely offered club to attack Silva and Zahra — there are all kinds of people already mobilizing to do this (I see this with my own eyes) — unless they themselves defuse this bomb…

  10. Raymond- your common sense is refreshing. Are you from around here? Common sense left Fullerton many years ago.

    “Padre”- You should hang out at the Orange juice blog, It’s right up your alley. They are word salad connoisseurs there!

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