ANTIOCH — City Council members have extended a temporary ban on the commercial use of non-medical marijuana in Antioch for up to nine more months while they decide whether to adopt permanent rules.
The 4-0 vote this week to buy themselves more time while city employees research the economic and other implications of allowing marijuana-based businesses followed a lengthy discussion that included finger pointing and considerable disagreement over how long this third — and final — moratorium should last.
State law allows cities to prohibit certain land uses — and thereby particular businesses — for up to two years while they study the potential effects of those activities and decide whether or how to regulate them.
Cities around the state have been crafting their own ordinances regulating — or banning — non-medical marijuana businesses since the passage of Proposition 64 in November 2016.
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The ballot measure legalized both some adult recreational use as well as commercial activity, although the latter won’t start until the state starts issuing licenses Jan. 1.
However, Prop. 64 also allows cities to ban the cultivation of cannabis outdoors, which Antioch does, along with medical marijuana dispensaries.
By contrast, the law prevents cities from outlawing indoor grows entirely; residents have the right to cultivate up to six plants in the privacy of their home.
Councilman Tony Tiscareno sharply criticized the staff report that accompanied the agenda item for being one-sided, noting that the ordinance extending the ban cited law enforcement’s concerns about legalizing marijuana use for other than medical reasons but made no mention of the widespread support for decriminalizing the drug.
He pointed out that a large majority of Antioch residents voted for Prop. 64 and the ballot measure received a 57 percent approval rating statewide.
The city should acknowledge what residents think about the issue, Tiscareno said.
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“Looking at the report … we’re somewhat biased toward public health and safety — which I understand — but it doesn’t tell you the trueness of what … these voters were trying to get accomplished,” he said.
Tiscareno and other council members also voiced frustration that they hadn’t received any more information from city staffers on the commercial aspects of marijuana — the potential revenue and costs associated with allowing businesses to cultivate, process, test, distribute and sell it — since establishing the first temporary ban a year ago.
“Here we are … asking for yet another extension after the voters of Antioch overwhelmingly passed this measure,” Councilman Lamar Thorpe said.
Although he personally opposed Prop. 64, Thorpe said elected officials’ job is to implement the policy that constituents asked for — not judge whether they’re right or wrong.
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Although the council also had directed the former city manager months ago to have the Economic Development Commission study the matter, council members were dismayed to learn Tuesday that commissioners only had taken it up at their October meeting.
Because of the delay, council members had differing opinions on how much time they should give the city’s staff to come up with enough information for them to make an informed decision.
Mayor Sean Wright wanted a moratorium that would last a full year; Councilman Lamar Thorpe pushed for a six-month limit.
After considerable haggling over the time limit, they finally agreed to wait no longer than nine months to decide how or whether to regulate the use of non-medical marijuana and requested city staffers provide updates every two months on the progress they’ve made in their research.
If the council ultimately decides not to adopt an ordinance, state law would govern the use of recreational and commercial marijuana within city limits.
The city still could adopt its own rules at a later date, but there’s a caveat: If it decided to prohibit marijuana-related commerce, any of those type businesses in town would have the right to remain until their state license expires.
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