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Encinitas starts process to implement voter-approved cannabis initiative

A marijuana leaf on a plant at a cannabis grow in Gardena.
A marijuana leaf on a plant at a cannabis grow in Gardena.
(Associated Press)

New ordinance allowing cultivation, distribution and retail sales requires city and state approval

Encinitas really doesn’t have any choice about adopting a new ordinance allowing cannabis cultivation, distribution and retail sales because the city’s voters already have approved an initiative permitting it, city planning commissioners said Thursday, May 20.

However, the city can and should do a few things to make the situation more tolerable for some residents, they decided as they unanimously voted to start the process that will put the new voter-approved, cannabis regulations into place.

“There’s a lot going on here and there’s a lot that’s going to affect people,” Commissioner Kevin Doyle said.

The commission’s recommendations to the City Council on ways to make the transition more tolerable included:

  • Putting “great effort” into a public education campaign that will let residents know what will be allowed under the ordinance and whom they can contact if cannabis product growers, manufacturers, distributors and retail sales businesses aren’t following the rules;
  • Creating and distributing a map showing where growing, manufacturing, distributing and retail shops selling cannabis are allowed to locate in the city;
  • Approving a “desperately needed” odor management ordinance so that there’s a way of dealing with stinky cannabis plant smells before people start complaining.

“I don’t like anything about the ordinance, but I also feel that because it was voted on by the public, that train has left the station,” Commissioner Steve Dalton said as he recommended that the commission support adopting the new cannabis regulations, but with some community education measures.

Commissioner Susan Sherod noted that Palm Springs passed a “zero tolerance” odor ordinance for cannabis cultivation businesses in 2019 and said Encinitas should consider something similar, while fellow commissioner Doyle said Encinitas essentially has no significant ordinance now that regulates noxious odor, adding that he would “very much” like the council to tackle this issue.

Encinitas voters approved Measure H — the cannabis business regulation initiative — in November 2020. It would allow four cannabis retail sales stores to open in the city; permits commercial cannabis cultivation in greenhouses on agriculturally zoned land; and allows cannabis kitchens, distribution facilities and product manufacturers to locate in some parts of the city.

Restrictions include a requirement that cannabis retail sales stores must be 1,000 feet or more from day care centers, playgrounds, schools or other fellow cannabis retailers.

The Thursday, May 20 Planning Commission vote moves the proposed regulations to the City Council where they will be subject to more hearings, though council members will face the same lack of choice about whether to adopt them, since they’ve already won voter approval. The regulations also will undergo state Coastal Commission review, and Encinitas cannot begin accepting cannabis business applications until the regulations get state approval, a city staff report states.

Concern about the cannabis sales, manufacturing and distribution regulations was evident Thursday, May 20 — 14 people provided public testimony to the commission during the hearing. All of them said the proposed regulations did not adequately address their concerns and suggested ways the council could improve the situation.

Three people active in drug-free advocacy programs for teens said the new regulations were likely to increase teen use of marijuana, while several people who live near a hemp growing operation said they’re already dealing with noxious odor issues and suspect that pesticides used by the farm have harmed their health.

And, Jamie Hall, an attorney whose firm was involved in a lawsuit against the city of San Diego over its cannabis regulations, said he believed the city was required to do a full-scale environmental analysis of the proposed regulations before implementing them.

The city’s legal team doesn’t agree with Hall’s position, saying the proposed ordinance is not a “project” and therefore does not need to undergo state Environmental Quality Act review, though any permits for cannabis-related businesses issued after the ordinance is approved might need to do so.

On Thursday, May 20, Assistant City Attorney Barry Shultz reiterated that position.

“We stand by what is in the report,” he said.

To view the commission agenda report and the proposed ordinance, visit: https://encinitas.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=7&event_id=3175&meta_id=123233

— Barbara Henry is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune


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