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Cannabis ballot question a no-go in Arroyo Grande 

Arroyo Grande voters won’t get the chance to sound off on how they feel about commercial cannabis in their city when they go to the ballot box in November.

Members of the Arroyo Grande City Council declined to vote in favor of placing a non-binding question on the ballot to gauge attitudes about commercial marijuana businesses, citing a tightening deadline to develop and approve the measure’s wording in order to get it before voters in time.

“The timeline is way too tight, and I feel like we’d be rushing,” Councilmember Kristen Barneich said at a June 26 meeting.

California allows cities and counties to place non-binding questions, called advisory measures, on ballots to gauge public opinion on important community issues. That includes how they feel about commercial cannabis. The ballot measure questions must be no longer than 75 words, and must include an impartial analysis from the city attorney, as well as arguments for and against the issue. California cities including Albany and Weed, as well as the counties of Sierra and Inyo, have authored cannabis-related advisory measures in the past.

City Manager Jim Bergman said the council could place such a question on the November ballot, but the deadline for submitting the question to the SLO County Clerk’s office is Aug. 10. The city would still need time to develop the impartial analysis, field arguments for and against, and hold a public review period. In order to do that, the council would need to hold at least two more meetings in July to meet the deadline.

“Time is of the essence with something like this,” he said.

That tight window is the reason many of the council members declined to vote to move the measure forward. That included Mayor Pro-Tem Caren Ray, who originally asked to explore a commercial cannabis advisory measure at a June 12 meeting.

“I don’t think we can do this in a reasonable amount of time,” Ray said. “I don’t think we have the time to be careful and correct.”

Still, Ray added that she’d still like to be able to measure residents’ feelings on the issue at some point. Bergman said that the city still had other methods to gauge public sentiment on the issue, such as public workshops, surveys, or hiring an outside firm to conduct a poll.

Consideration of the measure comes after the council voted 3-2, with Ray and Mayor Jim Hill dissenting, to get rid of its local permitting regulations for commercial medical marijuana delivery services. That vote came after a conflict between state and local regulations led to the city’s lone delivery business, Elite Care Industries, losing its state license to operate. The city now wants to allow any delivery service licensed by the state to operate in Arroyo Grande. But the changes still need to be approved by the city’s Planning Commission and go back before the council for a second vote. Even then, it would take another 30 days to go into effect. That means the new regulations won’t take effect for at least another two or three months, leaving patients to either travel to nearby Grover Beach or find delivery services willing to travel to the city even though they are technically not permitted to operate there.

“Some of our residents don’t have that much time,” Hill said at that June 26 meeting, alluding to terminally ill patients in the city.

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