Northern California

Walnut Creek wants more info before making marijuana regulations

WALNUT CREEK — While acknowledging residents’ clear direction that they favor more access to both medical and recreational marijuana, City Council members also said they can’t craft meaningful local ordinances without updated state regulations to serve as a guide.

With that in mind, the council on Nov. 14 told city staff to wait until those state regulations come out, and to be ready to recommend local ordinances for adoption no later than June 30, 2018.

“It’s going to take time to process all (the information), and I think we need to do it right,” Mayor Rich Carlston said.

Until those state regulations are updated and made public, and without them on which to base local ordinances, it is folly to craft local laws, he and other council members said.

In the meantime, the council asked that the city’s temporary moratorium on recreational marijuana uses be extended to medical marijuana, too, except for deliveries, which council members said they want to see continue.

Walnut Creek, like every California city and county, is wrestling with how to react to the passage one year ago of Proposition 64, which as of Jan.1 will legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older. In that process, many cities also are revisiting, or visiting for the first time, medical cannabis dispensary regulations, as well.

A city staff report suggests the city could prohibit outright any businesses at which cannabis could be bought … or allow them. A volume of one such business every 30,000 residents — two, given the city’s population of about 69,000 — was given as a hypothetical.

Local business leaders have told the city they don’t want any marijuana-related sales, processing or growing in the downtown “core” area, but they see business opportunities related to it, and recreational pot is subject to sales taxes and other local taxes voters approve.

Along with tax revenue would come some costs. If the city allowed two retail establishments, one non-sworn staffer would need to be hired, at a cost of about $100,000 a year. If the council chooses to allow outdoor personal and/or indoor commercial cultivation connected to retail operations, an additional sworn officer, at $200,000 per year, would probably have to be hired. There would also likely be additional staff costs to process conditional use permits for marijuana-related businesses.

Police Capt. Steve Gorski told the council that if his department carries out its patrols and background checks properly, the city shouldn’t have significant issues with one or two marijuana businesses. “Anywhere in Walnut Creek … we can make that location as safe as possible,” he said.

Council members acknowledged that Walnut Creek residents have already spoken on legalized recreational marijuana, in both the November 2016 election (in which 64 percent of those who voted supported legalization) and in a more recent city-conducted poll, in which a similar majority declared their support for adults to use cannabis as they see fit. It was a point Councilman Justin Wedel made several times during the Nov. 14 meeting.

“How much more feedback do we need, as a council, that the community wants this?” asked Wedel, who wanted to move immediately on establishing regulations.

Several members of the audience agreed. Gary Peete said he thinks the city, so far, has been “trying to find excuses not to do this.” Farid Harrison said the city should embrace the commercial component of legal sales, which only a few area cities are currently poised to do.

“Why send tax dollars to Oakland or Richmond?” Harrison asked.