EL CERRITO – Although the city has been slow to embrace the idea of allowing marijuana businesses compared with some of its neighbors, such as Berkeley and Richmond, it is now making formal plans to join them within the next year.

Part of the motivation to move ahead came with the passage of state Prop. 64, which legalized recreational cannabis use and sales beginning Jan. 1, 2018, and the fact that more than 70 percent of city voters approved the measure last November, far ahead of the 57 percent support it received statewide.

After listening to the public at a community meeting last month and at City Council meetings where the issue has been discussed, the city staff heard the reaction of elected officials to a draft plan for regulating dispensaries at Tuesday’s council meeting.

[related_articles location=”left” show_article_date=”false” article_type=”automatic-primary-section” curated_ids=””]The plan calls for a maximum of two dispensaries that would be limited to retail sales of marijuana and marijuana products, such as edibles, along with marijuana deliveries to customers’ addresses.

Delivery drivers will have to use unmarked cars and refrain from cash sales in response to police concerns about crime.

Growing marijuana commercially will be prohibited in the city, although Prop. 64 allows individuals to cultivate up to six marijuana plants at a time in their homes.

The permit application process will be competitive and the city will set performance standards and procedures for suspension or revocation of permits for operators who receive permits and don’t meet the standards.

The city will also encourage applicants to come up with a “public benefit” to offer to increase their chances of receiving a permit.

Operators will be required to have a security plan that includes video surveillance of the premises and both the dispensary operators and employees will have to pass background checks.

In addition, the dispensaries will be required to be located on San Pablo Avenue and be more than 600 feet from parks and schools and 1,000 feet from other cannabis businesses.

The city would begin taking permit applications early next year and issue permits in the spring that will be good for one year, with the possibility of extending them for three years at a time if performance standards are met.

Speakers at this week’s meeting brought up such issues as the need for open hearings in awarding the dispensary permits, allowing police department monitoring of cameras inside the dispensaries and limiting the number of dispensaries to two.

Special report: Cannabis and the environment.

After posing questions and commenting about the plan at length, Councilman Greg Lyman encouraged the council to make the permit selection process “more transparent” and allow more public comment on the plan, possibly with another community meeting.

Lyman also indicated that the local Prop. 64 vote influenced his thinking.

“This has become more about service than (tax) revenue,” he said.

Police Chief Paul Keith responded to concerns about police video surveillance by saying that his department would only be monitoring cameras in responding to a police call or an alarm.

“There will be no constant monitoring,” he said.

The city staff plans to present a final version of the Cannabis Business Ordinance at the council’s Nov. 21 meeting.

Following the meeting, the council was to meet in closed session to negotiate “price and terms of payment” for 6500 Stockton Ave., the Open House Senior Center, according to the meeting agenda.

No other information was released. The West Contra Costa school district terminated the $1-a-year lease on the senior center, which sits on the campus of Fairmount Elementary School, effective July 1, to use the building to relieve overcrowding at the school.

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