CALIFORNIA CITY — The City Council tabled a decision on creating and filling a new cannabis compliance officer position within city staff, amid debate over the need, cost and job description at the Nov. 12 meeting.

When approving the 2019-2020 budget, the Council in principle approved the position of a cannabis compliance officer to oversee the city’s commercial marijuana businesses and ensure regulations are being followed and taxes and fees are being collected. The position is to be paid for through fees from the marijuana industry.

The city has 11 marijuana businesses in operation now, with about 50 more working their way through the planning process, City Manager Anna Linn said.

“There is a defined need” for the position, she said, with the industry preparing to grow “exponentially” in the near future.

When speaking with other cities that have welcomed the marijuana industry, she has been told that their mistake was in waiting too long to develop a compliance program.

The city needs a person in a position of authority to compel these businesses to comply with the regulations and to pay the required taxes and fees, Linn said. This will not be effective if it’s an added task to an existing staff member who will not carry the same authority as a dedicated compliance officer.

The compliance officer will also help by ensuring new businesses understand the city’s rules when they approach with interest in coming to the city, City Attorney Christian Bettenhausen said.

Linn recently brought on former Finance Director Jeannie O’Laughlin, who joined the marijuana industry after resigning from the city, on a consultant basis to help get the city’s records in order.

O’Laughlin said she found a number of businesses in the city with state licenses but no city permits, which are a requirement for state licensing. She also found businesses that had changed their names and contact information without notifying the city.

Additionally, judging by fee revenues, a large number of businesses with permits are not being charged the annual renewal fees, she said.

“We do have a lot of issues. If we don’t get it at the front end, we’re going to lose a lot of money in the middle and in the back,” she said. “It’s going to be really important to get a handle on this and make sure we do it right.”

Councilmember Ron Smith argued that the job was unnecessary and could be handled by existing personnel.

“I just don’t see the need for this,” he said. “To me, this is just a big-government issue.”

Additionally, the job description as presented was for a department head position, not an officer, and that the requirements were more than what the job should entail, Smith said.

“It needs to be totally revamped,” he said.

Smith and others argued the job should only be part-time, without enough work to justify a full-time position.

One argument in favor of the position raised by several people is the fact that existing staff is already overburdened and unable to take on yet another task and adequately address it.

“The Planning Department and Code Enforcement don’t have the manpower to do this, I guarantee you,” Planning Commission Chairman Jim Creighton said, adding they can barely cover the jobs they are tasked with now.

“Nobody’s taxes are going to pay for this position. This is all coming from fees,” he said.

Creighton also cautioned the industry is ramping up and before long there will be enough to oversee to justify more than one full-time position to oversee it.

Councilman Donald Parris agreed that the job description could use some refinement, but that the position itself is necessary and needs to be filled soon if the city is going to realize its goal of collecting tax revenues from the industry.

“If we can’t bring somebody on board that will collect these taxes, that will make these businesses accountable, we’re at a standstill,” he said. “We’re losing money every single day that we don’t do this.”

“We need to do this and we need to have done it a long time ago,” Mayor Pro Tem Gene Stump said. Stump advocated for it to be a full-time position to be able to address all the work necessary.

“We need to stay ahead of the game,” he said.

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