ANTIOCH – The city now is developing rules for marijuana retailers and related businesses, which can start requesting permits to operate in Antioch later this month.

Over the objections of most residents who turned out for last week’s council meeting, Antioch City Council in a 3-2 vote approved an ordinance that will allow various types of cannabis-based commerce in two areas of town, including stores selling the drug for medicinal and recreational purposes.

The ordinance, which takes effect July 26, modifies Antioch’s zoning map, making it possible for cannabis companies to apply for a conditional use permit to do business in the industrial area along the Wilbur Avenue corridor on the city’s northern waterfront or in the business park on Verne Roberts Circle near Antioch’s western border.

The businesses must be at least 600 feet – just over 1½ times the length of two football fields – from schools, parks and homes.

The councilmembers’ decision, which Mayor Sean Wright and Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock opposed, followed an hour of public comment during which all but four of the nearly three dozen speakers urged them to keep cannabis-based businesses out of the city.

“I don’t see how revenue from business licensing and state taxes even come(s) close to paying for the additional resources many cities reported needing … (for) code enforcement, law enforcement and first responders,” said a father of two young girls, noting that cannabis merchants in communities from San Leandro and Redwood City to Oakland and San Francisco are placing a strain on those services. “I really beg you … to vote no.”

With a population approaching 115,000, Antioch long has struggled to retain the number of police officers it needs. The police department’s 96 sworn officers falls short of the 103 positions the city had budgeted for in 2017-18, a target that just rose to 104 with the start of the new fiscal year.

Other critics of the ordinance asserted there is a correlation between the introduction of marijuana dispensaries and an increase in crime, among them a retired San Francisco Police Department officer who noted that retailers elsewhere in the state have been robbed at gunpoint or become a hub for money laundering, illegal trafficking of firearms and other crime.

Some who spoke out against cannabis storefronts were recovered drug addicts who described marijuana as a stepping stone to heroin and other narcotics; others worried about their effect on Antioch’s younger generation.

“You’re taking a huge chance with our youth,” said Ken Rickner, who runs a homeless ministry.

And how would the city spend the revenue from those businesses? he asked rhetorically. Would it go toward hiring more police to combat the crime they would cause? “I’m for no,” Rickner said.

But Burt Weinstein, an Antioch accountant who suffers from severe arthritis, argued that it’s because he’s taking medical marijuana for pain that he hasn’t already finished off the opioids his doctor prescribed in January.

“Thanks to medical marijuana I’m not getting hooked on it,” he said.

Ogorchock acknowledged the drug’s usefulness treating patients such as war veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, but she noted that the chief of police opposes the idea of marijuana being readily available on store shelves.

Every city that has allowed marijuana dispensaries has experienced problems related to those businesses, she said.
“Our crime is going down ― I want our crime to continue to go down,” Ogorchock said. “I want our city to be safe and I don’t see this as being safe.”

But in the end, three of her colleagues on the council prevailed.

Councilman Tony Tiscareno noted that most Antioch residents had voted for Proposition 64 in 2016, which legalized the adult recreational use of marijuana in California.

“It’s already here,” he said, reminding listeners that residents legally can cultivate up to six plants in their homes.

And Councilman Lamar Thorpe pointed out that Antioch now has marijuana delivery services.

In anticipation of California’s legalization of recreational marijuana sales Jan. 1, Antioch’s Economic Development Commission last year began considering the potential revenue that cannabis sales along with packaging, testing, distribution and other facets of the industry could generate for the city.

Commissioners concluded that processing and medical research appeared to be the best options, and expressed concern about the effect that sales and delivery could have on the city’s image.

However, they also acknowledged the public’s concern that a ban on retailers would limit medical marijuana users’ ability to buy a drug to which they are legally entitled.

The city then hired a consulting firm that organized three public workshops on the matter. That company now is working with city employees to come up with requirements that will govern such aspects of cannabis businesses’ operations as lighting and surveillance cameras, signs, storage and odor control.

Before it can open, each prospective cannabis business first must receive the approval of both the Planning Commission and City Council.

Although state law has legalized the possession, sale and distribution of marijuana, it does not mandate cities or other local government agencies to do the same.

Businesses would have to pay the usual business license tax and Antioch’s 8.75 percent sales tax, but how much that would mean for city coffers remains to be seen because there’s no way of knowing yet how many there will be, said City Manager Ron Bernal.

He noted that at some point they also might be subject to a cannabis tax, but said that would have to be decided in a citywide vote and as yet councilmembers haven’t discussed the possibility.