Council Votes Down Changes to Marijuana Ordinance

Council won’t act on recommendations by Planning Department to ease cannabis retail restrictions

Published : Tuesday, November 26, 2019 | 5:41 AM

The City Council Monday voted unanimously not to make changes to the City’s cannabis zoning regulations, despite Planning Department concerns that the City is likely to be unable to accommodate all six of the approved top applicants in Pasadena.

The amendments would have increased the maximum number of marijuana shops to three per Council district, but only one per Business Improvement District (BIDs), and would have changed distance separation requirements for cannabis shops operating in the same area, to prevent a concentration of shops in any given neighborhood.

No Councilmember spoke in favor of changing the City’s laws, now among the strictest in the State.

“I never saw six as a minimum number to achieve,” said Mayor Terry Tornek, during the two-hour long discussion. “I saw it as a maximum.”

“Not achieving six is not a problem,” Tornek added. Tornek told the Council that the current goal should be completing the licensing for the City’s six final approved applicants.

Because of the City’s stringent rules, only one of the six final cannabis retail applicants—Harvest, LLC—has achieved a completed application.

As each retail finalist gets closer to final approval, other applicants file lawsuits to block them.

During the Council discussion, a number of residents spoke against the change in the ordinance, while at least three attorneys or employees of three cannabis applicants spoke in favor of changing the law.

“Don’t change the ordinance,” said Tammy McGovern. “You will offend the will of the voters, and you will destroy the integrity of the City. “

But McGura Bautista, a salesperson for Sweet Flower, told the Council that changing the ordinance would “add value and compassion to the City.”

“Let’s work together,” she told the Council.

Councilmember Andy Wilson cautioned the council against acting prematurely to change the ordinance, saying, “We’re conceptualizing something that hasn’t happened yet. We’re trying to solve a problem that we don’t understand yet.”

“This is not fully baked,” said Councilmember Gordo.

Given the proclivity of lawsuits and the stringent regulations, one observer noted that there may be as many as 720 permutations of the licensing outcome, as approved finalists begin to battle each other in lawsuits.

At the same time, a measure currently headed for the 2020 March ballot, if approved by the voters, would contravene the ordinance and allow a number of previously illegal cannabis shops to open or reopen.

“It’s a real balancing act,” said Planning Director David Reyes.

Three of the six finalists have applied for locations in District 3, where Harvest has applied. Two of the applicants—Sweet Flower LLC, and Atrium Group—have had their applications ruled “incomplete,” as Harvest applied first.

Of the City’s seven council districts, only three, four six and seven have seen applications for shops.

City Manager Steve Mermell said Planning Department staff will continue to process applications.

Applicants Harvest and Integral will return to the City Council on December 16. Harvest will see its Conditional Use Permit (CUP), which was approved by the Planning Department, voted on by Council, while Integral will appeal its disapproved CUP, which was not approved by the Planning Department.

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