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Cities in SLO County to consider medical marijuana cultivation ordinances 

Now batting in the local push to pass city ordinances for medical marijuana cultivation in the first few weeks of January: Grover Beach, Paso Robles, and Pismo Beach. On deck: Arroyo Grande, Atascadero, and Morro Bay.

Local cities are among a statewide wave of municipalities scrambling to pass bans or regulations on medical marijuana cultivation before a March 1 deadline. That deadline is in response to new state laws passed by the state Legislature in 2015 that will regulate all aspects of the medical marijuana industry.

Under those laws, called the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, state licenses will be required in 2018 to grow, manufacture, test, distribute, and sell medical cannabis. Applicants must first receive a form of local authorization, like a use permit or business license, in order to get a state license.

One provision of those laws says that localities must have an ordinance in place for cultivation by March 1, or they could lose their ability to maintain local control on the issue and instead must defer to state guidelines. That March 1 deadline was a mistake in the bill’s last-minute amendments, according to a spokesperson for the bill’s author, Assemblymember Jim Wood. But new bans and regulations are in motion nonetheless.

Officials from several local cities say that the ordinances currently under consideration are designed solely to meet the deadline and that, in the future, they might undergo the more extensive process of considering a more detailed set of regulations.

“We know this is an issue that’s going to continue to evolve,” said Warren Frace, Paso Robles community development director. “We’re trying to comply with the state deadline and make sure we have the ability to make decisions for our city in the future.”

In the next few weeks, every city council—except San Luis Obispo, which has already clarified its policy on the matter—will be considering a local policy for medical marijuana cultivation. More often than not, those considerations are leaning toward outright bans.

The new state laws will not require licenses for personal grows that are 100 square feet or less, but localities maintain the option to restrict or ban personal cultivation. Whether cities have the ability to ban personal cultivation has been the subject of several legal battles, because medical marijuana proponents have argued that cities can’t infringe on the rights granted by Proposition 215, which was passed by voters in 1996 to grant access to marijuana for medical uses. 

Each council will be asked to consider staff and planning commission recommendations and also has the ability to ask for other options that they would then consider at a later meeting.

The Grover Beach City Council will hear the ordinance at its Jan. 4 meeting. In December, the council directed staff to draft an ordinance that bans cultivation, with an exemption for cultivation that is solely for personal use.

On Jan. 5, both the Paso Robles and the Pismo Beach city councils will consider ordinances at their respective meetings. In December, the Paso Robles Planning Commission voted 4-3 to recommend the council decide between completely banning medical marijuana cultivation, including for personal use, or to ban cultivation but allow limited indoor cultivation for personal use.

The Pismo Beach City Council will also consider an outright ban, after directing staff to draft an ordinance to do so on Dec. 15. The city is proposing a ban on personal cultivation as well, arguing that such a ban will not prevent access to medical cannabis because the city has chosen to allow mobile medical marijuana dispensaries to operate within the city.

The following week, on Jan. 12, Arroyo Grande, Atascadero, and Morro Bay will all consider ordinances.

Both the Arroyo Grande Planning Commission and the Atascadero Planning Commission recommended a complete ban on cultivation, including for personal use.

The Morro Bay City Council will take a slightly different approach, mirroring that taken by San Luis Obispo. Like SLO, Morro Bay operates under a permissive zoning scheme, where the only uses allowed are those that are explicitly listed within the city’s zoning code. Basically, if it’s not on that list, the city won’t permit it. The city has previously banned brick-and-mortar medical marijuana dispensaries in the city and does not currently have a policy for mobile dispensaries. The zoning code does not explicitly permit cultivation.

On Jan. 12, the council will be asked whether they want to maintain this position or if they want to undergo the process of amending the zoning code, which would not be completed in time for the March 1 deadline. In light of the time crunch, Morro Bay Community Development Director Scot Graham told New Times that for now, the decision on the table is meant to maintain local control and that the City Council will have the option to choose whether to revisit the issue down the road.

“As we get a little more time to think about it, we can develop more policies,” Graham said. 

-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay

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