Council amends its retail cannabis city code

The City of Port Hueneme enjoys a monopoly on retail cannabis, but that will change soon. (Photo by Chris Frost)

By Chris Frost

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Oxnard–The City Council, Dec. 1, amended Chapter 11, Article XVII of the Oxnard City Code (OCC) concerning Commercial Cannabis Regulations in the city.

They repealed Chapter 11, Article XV of the OCC on medical cannabis delivery, and repealed Chapter 7, Article XVI of the OCC for Cannabis and Medical Cannabis activities.

The city keeps moving closer to retail cannabis shops as the monopoly on cannabis Port Hurneme enjoys on retail cannabis looks like it will end soon.

Meanwhile, the city is reconsidering its applications, which upset owners who received letters awarding them with a license.

Planning & Sustainability Manager Kathleen Mallory presented the item and said she’ll focus on changes to the retail cannabis dispensary land use. Over the last two years, the council has made many decisions about cannabis regulations through adopting ordinances.

“Unfortunately, there were inconsistencies discovered in the city’s code,” she said. “The formal rejection letters did not notify the applicant’s right to appeal. In the interest of fairness to the prior retail cannabis and local equity cannabis access applicants, the city determined that it was necessary to immediately terminate the program.”

Mallory said the city wants to get the program right.

“Because the city council adopted ordinances over the last two years, there have been some errors in the regulations,” she said. “The goal is to correct these. The council’s action this evening will implement the city’s local equity program, ensure consistency between the adopted ordinances, correct code citations in sections of the ordinance, and importantly, update the city’s appeal provisions.”

The changes include eliminating the medical cannabis delivery ordinance because the state determined that the city can’t regulate medical cannabis delivery.

“That occurred after we adopted the first ordinance,” she said. “The complete removal of chapters in the ordinance are proposed to be repealed are cannabis, and medical cannabis activities were prohibited in the city. The council has taken action to allow cannabis.”

After the agenda and report were posted, she said they found a way to be business-friendly and more consistent with the city’s current process they implemented through land-use approvals.

“Additionally, we found a way to expedite a cannabis operator’s permit once they’re selected,” she said. “Therefore, we would like to introduce a slight change to one section of the ordinance. “We’re recommending a slight adjustment to section 11-457D to clarify the process once a cannabis business license has been issued and all land-use approvals are obtained.”

The change in the ordinance removes the term city council and replaces it with the community development director.

“We are dedicated to a new accelerated retail cannabis program and a local equity retail cannabis program,” she said. “The new program would open on Dec. 4 and close at 6 p.m. on Jan. 7, 2021. We’re recommending issuing up to 16 permits, with three being reserved for local equity retail cannabis applicants as now defined in the updated cannabis ordinance.”

After selecting the operators, Mallory said they would be eligible to apply for a special use permit.

The council also waived permit fees for retail applicants in phases one through three if they participated in the prior program.

During public comments, Lisa Slaughter said part of the changes came about because of the scoring process.

“The ordinance itself regarding local equity and the fees were promulgated during the application process,” she said. “I would urge the city council to wait and vett this ordinance more thoroughly rather than try to build an airplane while it’s in the sky. I hope you will also consider the scoring process to be more transparent and tell applicants what their scores were like Pasadena has done. That way, applicants understand where they stand and what the specific criteria are.”

Gene F. Feine said Oxnard is a medium-sized city, and it needs the tax revenue.

“I would like and request that the applicants who have granted their permits receive their permits, and the remaining six license slots that have been made available go to those applicants who applied, including the four who wanted to appeal,” he said.

He noted that Port Hueneme is ahead of the city, and they need to get the businesses operating.

“When you do issue licenses, it still takes time to open,” he said. “We need to get these people going right away. Applicants who are local are going to be harmed by this delay. It is patently unfair to the applicants who were granted licenses to have those licenses revoked. There was a meeting held by the city where no notice was given. It was a violation and inappropriate. In fairness, those original 10 applications should be granted. The six remaining permits should go up for evaluation by the city.”

Jim Gilmer urges the council to have more transparency and fairness for applicants.

“I do want to commend staff, Kathleen, particularly, for saying they want to get this right,” he said. “This is one time that I pray that the city will slow it down and get it right.”

Ronnie Jenkins said it’s an arduous process for himself and every other applicant.

“It takes a lot of time, energy, and resources, as you guys know as well,” he said. “Upon hearing the information that we were one of the 10 to get a cannabis license for retail, the entire team was ecstatic.”

He finds it difficult, he said, because of the situation they’re in right now.

“The perceived inadequacy by the city shouldn’t affect the people that got their award letter,” he said.”It seems to me that the minor issues the city is having regarding transparency shouldn’t affect the people who got their license. The allotted six licenses that are going to come out can be addressed as a separate issue. My recommendation is the 10 who got their license be able to open up for retail.”

This story will continue on Dec. 11.

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