PALMDALE — The City Council effectively reaffirmed its existing ban on commercial marijuana businesses Tuesday night by accepting the report of its Ad Hoc Cannabis Committee recommending the ban continue, but put off a decision to bring a city ordinance in line with state regulations to allow marijuana deliveries into the city.
The committee, established by the City Council in July 2017 in response to the passage of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, recommended continuing the ban.
The act, which was approved by voters as Proposition 64 in November 2016, went into effect Jan. 1, 2018. The law is intended to protect and expand upon medical marijuana access in the state, and legalize and control nonmedical adult cultivation, use and sales.
The law allows people to grow marijuana for their own use, but authorizes cities and counties to ban businesses selling or producing marijuana and related products and allows them to impose regulations on individuals growing marijuana.
The committee consisted of Mayor Steve Hofbauer and Councilwoman Laura Bettencourt, planning commissioners Bart Avery and Stacia Nemeth and community members Matthew Petri, Ken Hart, Joseph Parisio, Adam Murren, Sam Campanelli and Diane Carlton.
The committee made its recommendation after four public meetings. The first three meetings were educational, with consultants from HdL Companies providing information on the cannabis industry, regulations and economic factors. The fourth meeting involved discussion and formulation of the recommendation to the Council.
The recommendation, however, was not unanimous. Six of the eight members present at the final meeting said they favored the ban, while two — Murren and Campanelli — favored pursuing a course of allowing and regulating at least some aspects of the industry, but with a stringent application process.
Among the issues cited by committee members as reasons for continuing the ban were the fact that marijuana is still considered illegal under federal law, concerns regarding the cost to the city to add staff to develop the licensing and enforcement programs, concerns regarding the impact to local federal contractors, the need for more information from law enforcement and concerns that other cities that have allowed the industry are not meeting their revenue projections.
“It seems that the concerns of the committee are on point,” Councilman Richard Loa said. “I think the recommendation to continue the ban is appropriate.”
The fact that state law “has not been fully developed” regarding driving under the influence of marijuana presents a public safety issue, he said.
One resident cautioned that continuing the ban will encourage a black market in marijuana sales, with the city missing out on any sales tax revenues.
Hofbauer specifically cited the availability of services from outside the city as a justification for continuing the ban, as those who want it still have a means of obtaining it locally.
“Right now, it seems like the need is being met,” he said.
However, in the next item on the agenda, the Council decided to put off making changes to the city’s ordinance to allow for deliveries, bringing it in line with the current state regulations.
Recently, the state Bureau of Cannabis Control set regulations for the industry that allows for delivery, even in those areas that ban marijuana businesses.
The regulations are being challenged by cities around the state, arguing they take away local control in the matter and that the bureau exceeded its authority, Assistant City Attorney Noel Doran said in presenting the proposed ordinance that would allow for deliveries into the city by licensed marijuana retailers.
A court challenge to the regulations has begun through the League of California Cities, and legislation was introduced in the state Assembly Feb. 22 that would allow cities to ban or regulate deliveries, Doran said.
Loa requested the Council hold off on taking action in the matter until the court challenge to the regulations and the proposed legislation have run their course.
“My sense is we should wait on this until this begins to clear up,” he said. “I think it would be premature to be adopting an ordinance at this point.”
Bettencourt questioned what, if any, penalties the city would face by not making changes to match state regulations.
“This could actually be in litigation for years, and do we want to be out of compliance with the state regulations for that amount of time?” she said.
Doran said any citation issued for violating the city’s ban could be challenged and potentially overturned in litigation. He was not aware of any citation issued to a licensed retailer for making deliveries in Palmdale at this time.
However, he also said he believes the court challenge to the regulations will be successful.
Ultimately, the Council agreed to table the proposal on a 4-0 vote, with Councilman Juan Carrillo absent.
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