Lone Approved Marijuana Retail Storefront Permit Now in Question, Faces City Council Intervention

Published : Monday, October 28, 2019 | 4:59 AM

Marijuana retailer Harvest of Pasadena, which seemed to be the only one of six commercial cannabis retailers on track to score a plum location and win storefront approval, has hit a snag. Two City Councilmembers want the Council to intervene and take a closer look at the Conditional Use Permit approval for Harvest's proposed store at 169 West Colorado Blvd.

One year after voters approved the sale of recreational cannabis in Pasadena, there is no legally sold, over-the-counter product to be had in the city as applicants wrangle with a contrary process the City Manager is working to streamline.

City spokesperson Lisa Derderian confirmed Friday that no applicant has yet made it through the gantlet to that place where all their storefront approvals are lined up and they are thinking more about store construction than legalese.

“They’re still going through the process,” said Derderian.

The process has proven unpredictable and even potentially fatal to some of the six chosen applicants, each of whom ponied up $13,654 to apply for the license, an additional $10,639 for an operating permit, and significant legal and other fees associated with jumping through the hoops of the cannabis ordinance’s dictates.

Harvest of Pasadena, which was leading the pack in cleared the application process and successfully obtained on Oct. 15, the Holy Grail of Planning Commission approval for a conditional use permit, has hit a bump in the road, too.

On Oct. 21, Councilmember Tyron Hampton informed City Clerk Mark Jomsky by email that he wanted to “call up an appeal” of the Commission’s decision on Harvest.

On the same day, Councilmember Victor Gordo also emailed Jomsky, writing, “In my view, this matter presents significant questions and issues that must be reviewed. I am requesting this matter be agendized at the earliest possible city council meeting for call up consideration.”

So Jomsky placed the matter on the City Council’s Oct. 28 agenda as a “consideration of a call for review of a Planning Commission decision to the City Council regarding condition use permit No. 6757 to allow a retail cannabis dispensary…etc. etc.,” with a lone mention of the “alcohol density overlay District 1.”

Gordo told Pasadena Now that he supports the legal sale of cannabis in Pasadena, but pointed to the 5-3 approval vote (with one abstention) as a sign of division on the Planning Commission.

“Pasadena needs to get this right,” he said, “and this matter deserves review.”

Hampton could not be reached for comment.

The very public history of the cannabis licensing process documented on the City of Pasadena’s website shows Harvest as a favorite target of competing outfits.

One of those competitors is Atrium, which was an initial winner, but had its application for a conditional use permit denied because it was for a location in the same council district Harvest had staked out for itself… five hours earlier.

Since under the city ordinance there can only be one outlet per council district, Atrium was subsequently excluded from the process, prompting a lawsuit, in federal court no less, against the City of Pasadena and Harvest.

Harvest, the Sept. 3 lawsuit alleged, wasn’t truthful on its application. The City, plaintiffs said, committed certain actions that favored Harvest over other applicants. Overall, Atrium is claiming it was denied due process guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.

Another company, Sweetflower, also wanted a Colorado Boulevard/District 3 address, but its failure to use a licensed surveyor for its plan maps earned the application an “incomplete” classification and a walk to the proverbial showers.

Integral Associates Dena LLC had obtained the recommendation of the Planning Department only to have the Planning Commision, on Oct. 23, deny its conditional use permit request for a storefront in District 7.

The company has promised to appeal.

“I think the process is fine, staff is doing the best they can with it,” said Richard McDonald, an Integral Associates community advisor. “The trouble is political hesitancy and, at the end of the day, getting the City as a whole, comfortable with the process and where we are going with it.”

So with Harvest’s fate in doubt, the surviving applicants are Tony Fong, doing business as Varda, and MME, which is the entry of the corporate entity, known commercially as MedMen, to the Pasadena sweepstakes.

With the process mired, the City Manager has announced he has initiated a process through the Planning Commission to modify key portions of cannabis regulations to unblock some of the regulatory obstacles.

“The City Manager doing the right thing in taking the time to look at the ordinance to address any problems or ambiguities that have come up,” said McDonald.